In January, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi banned AXN for two months because it showed a programme on the World’s Sexiest Ads, which was “against good taste or decency and likely to adversely affect public morality”. The channel apologised and the ban was lifted by the end of February.
Barely a month later, Dasmunsi banned FTV for two months for pretty much the same reasons. The trigger was a programme called Midnight Hot, which showed “skimpily dressed and semi-naked models”.
Despite protests, Dasmunsi remained unapologetic. In a TV interview, he said, “I feel proud of banning FTV for two months. I feel proud as an Indian, as a citizen conscious about the culture and dignity of women.”
But it does seem baffling that a minister from a party that claims to uphold liberal, democratic values is playing moral policeman. When Sushma Swaraj was I&B Minister and took umbrage at FTV, no one was surprised, since she was from the BJP.
Much of the TV industry is reluctant to be openly critical of the I&B Ministry. When the ban was lifted, AXN issued a statement saying it was “grateful” to the ministry. Says a cautious Jawahar Goel, president of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, “I think these channels were banned because they didn’t respond to notices sent to them earlier.” Agreeing that the content code in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act is very general and can be interpreted “subjectively”, Goel says the best option is “self-regulation” by the industry.
Off the record, however, senior TV executives are more forthcoming. Says a news channel head on condition of anonymity, “I don’t see why we are surprised a Congress government is playing moral police. All parties want to control a powerful medium like television. No political party can afford to ban a news channel. But going after soft targets like AXN and FTV is like floating a trial balloon. It sends a shiver down the spines of all broadcasters.”