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Picture imperfect

india Updated: May 31, 2007 23:14 IST

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To consider anyone falling foul of the law, one must first ensure that the law is clearly spelt out. The same goes for rule-breakers and rules. By deciding to prepare a ‘new’ comprehensive content code for broadcasters, I&B Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi is proceeding along a path that could lift the mist of confusion that accompanies a channel being hauled up for airing something that the government believes they shouldn’t. At last, broadcasters will clearly know what the rules are so as to steer clear of any content that breaks those rules. Or so we hope.

The television medium in a country like India has an enormous reach that cuts across cultures and values. In such a context, programming needs to be careful not to go overboard. So we appreciate the proposed restriction of ‘adult content’ (certified ‘A’ by censors) on TV between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. No one should have any problem with that — once there is a consensus over what adult fare is and isn’t. Slightly more subjective (read: confusing) is the rule about not allowing women to be shown “in a bad light”. Does that mean a film like Shyam Benegal’s Mandi, depicting life in a Maharashtra brothel, can be aired? Will news channels be allowed to run programmes highlighting abused women? Or those showing women as perpetrators? What about music videos or filmi song-and-dance sequences that depict women as part of the general ambience? There will be hair-splitters who will need to put their heads together and come up with a standardised rule on this matter.

What makes us knit our brows in consternation is the rule against the “violation of the privacy of individuals”. There have been other avenues explored by governments to use “protection of privacy” as a cover to block journalistic investigations, especially against politicians. It may not always be pretty reportage (as in the case of sting operations), but the job at hand is to expose wrongdoings to a nation. TRPs may be boosted in the process, but if respectable newspapers can be allowed to ‘tell it as it is’ for the public good as well as keep an eye on circulation figures, why knuckle down TV? It is for the media to decide what form of investigative journalism is kosher; not the I&B Ministry. There will be much fulmination from all sides regarding what is okay on TV and what isn’t. But it is heartening that this matter is being thrashed out in the open. Let rules, not individuals or shadowy committees, decide what can be shown on TV.