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Zee pitches for allowing adult content on TV

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MUMBAI: The Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms today made a strong pitch for allowing adult content on television, which should be regulated. Reason: it would help bring about more transparency in the system.

Making a case for the move, Essel Corporate Group vice-president corporate brand development Ashish Kaul said, "This will bring about transparency in the business as, like it or not, adult content is a part of our lives. It is there on the Internet and on MMS on mobile phones. Does this mean that we ban it? Other newer media have far more impact than TV."

Speaking a session on content regulation at the Ficci Frames, Kaul said, "Covers of magazines, sometimes, have provocative pictures. Newspapers too, are no less bold."

Almost 140 million newspapers are sold everyday. Should we stop it?" Extending the argument further kaul explained that the problem lies in the Indian policy-makers obsession for restricting TV content, while not giving much thought to the other media. "In a sense, TV is being made a scapegoat," he added.

Already there are cable operators who after midnight screen adult films. This is due to a huge public demand. Legitimising adult content with regulation will "bring in accountability."

"If a consumer pays for DTH, and he wants adult content why should he be restricted when he has paid for it?" Kaul asked, adding to the debate whether adult content should be allowed on Indian television or the country continues to wear the moral fig leaf closing its eyes to developments happening all over the world.

Universal McCann India president Chintamani Rao said it was undesirable for a proposed Communications Commission of India to be appointed as a super regulator. "It goes against our cultural ethos. Instead we should have a structured and formalised self-regulatory body like ASCI is for advertising, he opined.

Coming down heavily on selective censorship and restrictions being imposed on certain segments of the media, Rao decried the urgency being shown in censoring ads, while nothing is done about Hindi film songs, some of which border on absolute vulgarity.

"It is ridiculous that an ad that shows a man running after eating candy is banned, while vulgar film songs pass muster," Rao said, however, conceding that there were times when broadcasters misbehaved with the rules regarding advertising.

A case in point is liquor advertising. While an understanding was reached that liquor ads would only air between 9 PM and 5:30 am, broadcasters "misbehaved" by showing liquor ads at 6 PM

Information and broadcasting minister joint secretary R Parasuram, also present during the session offered the government perspective saying the ministry is looking into various aspects of content regulation, including setting up a semi-governmental autonomous body for this purpose. Another provision that is being considered is imposing a ban on a channel that shows offensive material. This is being discussed with the law ministry, Parasuram said, indicating a downlink policy is also being discussed in the ministry. "This could have ramifications as far as restricting content is concerned," he added.

Star India VP Karan Kuljeet Singh said that broadcasters have internal control mechanisms for monitoring purposes. Self regulation is important. According to him it is important for broadcasters to design a universal ratings system and for broadcasters to respect viewers' sensibilities. Otherwise, viewers will switch off.

Legal firm TSG Associates' Tamali Sengupta gave delegates an overview of content regulation in different countries. "Most countries have self-regulation, although a fine or a penalty can be imposed," she pointed out.

After the Janet Jackson Super Bowl `wardrobe malfunction' episode in the US, the Federal Communications Commission increased the fine limit to half a million dollars from $32,050. The FCC acts on public complaints. For the Jackson episode, the FCC had received 530,000 complaints from the public.

The main reason for regulation is that broadcasters must meet

Acceptable community standards. However, there are challenges before content regulators globally. One of them being the penalty that must be imposed, Sengupta said.

Should content owners be liable for retransmitted content? Should there be pre-censorship in TV as there is in films? These are some of the issues, according to her, haunting regulators worldwide.

Sengupta added that the US position is that a cable company is not Subject to government interference as the investment is entirely private. For terrestrial TV, however, the government insists on controlling some spectrum. Industry self-regulation has worked in the US.

In the UK, Ofcom is the regulatory body, which has proposed a new draft code for content. Section One states that content that will impair a child's psychological and emotional development can only be screened in the watershed hours of 9 pm-5.30 am. Violence, sex, unjustified nudity are not allowed outside the watershed period.

"As far as India is concerned we need to look at whether content codes are compatible with acceptable community standards", Sengupta concluded.

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