Ghosts in the box
Ah, this is a tricky one, a perfect conundrum for the liberal fencesitter. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry, so often the bane of us liberal, broadminded lot, is planning to issue a warning to TV channels against airing programmes that promote superstition and occult practices. For a country that believes in spirits possessing a body more than it may believe in the redeeming powers of inoculation, this sounds like a fine step. Considering that many channels, especially Hindi and regional language ones, thrive in terms of TRPs each time they show a bhoot-pret ‘investigation programme, the rational and rationalism-loving government has the right to be concerned about programmes that promote irrationality.
But hang on. What about all that talk about the freedom of the media that we invoke each time the same I&B Ministry gets goggle-eyed about when it encounters ‘adult material’ and ‘vulgarity’ on the telly? Surely, if we talk about adults being able to ‘handle’ images of ladies lolling about on beaches, we should also be able talk about the same viewership being adult enough to view exorcisms without throwing all the medicine and the doctor’s prescriptions away? The question now at the door of the ministry is whether to ban such programmes outright or to issue warnings to deter channels from showing such shows.
The trouble with programmes on superstition — and on astrology, for that matter — is that the bulk of viewers are those who take them quite ‘seriously’ because they are shown on news channels. It’s like the difference between watching the proverbial art house movie with its mandatory ‘adult content’ for the purpose of appreciating the ‘aesthetic nuances’ of cinema, and watching it for more, shall we say, ‘direct’ reasons. The right thing for the government to do is to insist that bhoot-pret etc. programmes are kept off news channels. That should do the trick of telling the viewer, however unsophisticated he is, what’s ‘news’ and what’s ‘entertaining’ bakwas.