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    Posted on 17 March 2012
    Srinivasan K Swamy

    Let’s tune into some adult content, please

    Gag orders can be dangerous for any medium when they foreclose alternative means of content distribution

    By Srinivasan K Swamy

    ANY ADULT viewer with a broadband connetion would know how to download adult movies, watch adult video or visit adult sites, read or post his/her own sex stories, upload personal pictures of bedroom antics — the sky is the limit.

    Why, they can even browse Penthouse and Playboy on tablets in a book form!

    There are thousands of sites swarming with adult content and are hosted from countries where such activities are perfectly legal and acceptable, at least among adults. There are also mirror websites that re-distribute the content for downloading and it’s well nigh impossible to keep track of all the web ip addresses or urls that might enable hrd minister Kapil Sibal to ban those. China with its strict policing norms is unable to control pornographic content and by all accounts is flourishing as the world’s largest market for pornography.

    The mobile internet penetration inour country at about 100 million, i.e., higher than the fixed line connectivity and this gap is going to grow bigger in the years to come. The speed, comfort and stability provided by broadband are also increasing exponentially. Given that more websites can now be accessed in local languages, we are about to witness a phenomenon hitherto un-witnessed. Many of these language sites will probably be hosted overseas offering explicit adult content. There is already evidence of this on the web. Time for a reality check. Time to acknowledge that information will now come integrated with entertainment because the youth will not have it any other way. And this is exactly how it should be.

    Under our Constitution, freedom of expression is not absolute but subject to reasonable restriction, one of which is obscenity. The Supreme Court has defined obscene as something that is “offensive to modesty or decency; lewd, filthy or repulsive.” Thus while some form of adult content fitting this definition may be termed as ‘obscene’ under the penal code, this Victorian code conveniently exempts other forms of expression from its purview. Thus while the sculptures of Khajuraho are not considered obscene, D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was held to be obscene by the Supreme Court. In a similar vein, there is a public interest litigation pending the Delhi High Court seeking to restrict and bar websites pedalling obscenity and porn.

    The Information Technology Act of 2000 also favours the language of the 18th century penal code in its identification of prohibited materials for transmission. Under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and the rules formulated in it, programme and advertisements cannot be “indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive.” However the problem is that these words have not been defined adequately and are subject to debate and subjective interpretation on a case by case basis.

    With the exception of print, it would be impossible to police adult content on any mass media channel

    Although the Information and Broadcasting Ministry last year allowed reality shows with adult content to be telecast after 11 pm, it has denied that there is any proposal to telecast television content mainly for adults in the wee hours. Given this background, I don’t see a policy change on this issue any time soon.

    Now let’s switch out attention to the ground situation. By July 1, 2012 the government has mandated that all cable connections must be digitalised in the top four metros and within the next 18 months, across India. This will usher in addressable conditional access system to 95 million homes, over and above the fast growing dth platform comprising of over 45 million subscribers.

    What this development means is that subscribers will have to select and watch channels they wish to pay for. A household can subscribe to any content format. The viewing would be restricted by a password issued to the subscriber. This will transfer control in the hands of parents, who can now choose and keep certain content out of the reach of the children if it offends their sensibilities. You do not have this kind of selectivity in any other medium — print, TV, cinema or radio. On the internet, you have firewalls, but few know how to apply them successfully.

    Today even the films censored by the Central Board of Film Certification with an ‘A’ rating are not allowed to be shown on TV without further editing for a ‘U’ viewing. At least these can be allowed under controlled access environment. We could then start permitting adult content specifically created for TV with strict guidelines on what can be shown without demeaning women or showing excessive horror or violence. The Broadcasting Content Complaint Council, a self regulatory body set up by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation can regulate this industry and prescribe content codes for regular viewing.

    I do hope that the government sees merit in allowing adult content and not over-regulate entertainment that viewers are keen to consume. In any event, they will seek it elsewhere, a recourse that might be more inappropriate under our existing laws.

    Internet and its power of integrating the information from across the world were not within the orbit of our thinking when our constitutional experts wrote those laws. A review of some of those laws based on current realities has become absolutely essential. I do hope the government does not develop an ostrich-kind of approach on this matter.

    This Concludes Our Two-Part Series On Content Censorship

    The author is chair of the RK Swamy Hansa Group.

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    Posted on 17 March 2012



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