Indecency law extended to TV channels, internet; Creative society is uneasy

Indecency law extended to TV channels, internet; Creative society is uneasy

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NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: In a move that is bound to raise the hackles of the television and ad fraternity, the government Thursday decided to broaden the scope of Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 to cover satellite television channels and the internet.

The amendment approved by the government seeks to ensure that more effective protection is provided against indecent representation of women by covering newer forms of communication including internet, multimedia messaging beyond the print and audio-visual media.

This, the government feels, will aid in addressing the problem of increased objectification of women, thereby ensuring dignity of women.

"The existing Act covers print media in its present form however over the year?s technological revolution has resulted in the development of newer forms of mediums such as internet and satellite based communication, multi-media messaging, and cable television among others," the government said.

"It has, therefore, become imperative to widen the scope of the law so as to cover such forms of media, on one hand, and to strengthen the existing safeguards to prevent indecent representation of women through any such form," it added.

The creative fraternity, still to come to terms with The Dirty Picture saga when the television premiere of the film was postponed twice due to censor board?s intervention, has made it clear that the government needs to clearly spell what indecency means and who will decide that.

"While we definitely feel there is an overarching need to protect women from indecent portrayal, the question over what constitutes indecency still looms. We need to study the fine print of the act carefully before drawing conclusions but indecency is a very subjective term and unless it is clearly defined it will open a can of worms," film director Mahesh Bhatt said.

Lowe Lintas chairman R Balki, a filmmaker himself, believes that the law might be misused by vested interests if there is dichotomy over what constitutes indecency.

"I think media has a responsibility towards women, children and, in fact, towards everybody, human beings in general. It doesn?t mean that men maybe misrepresented. But what constitutes decency or indecency will always be the dispute," he says.

According to the amended act, penalties are to be enhanced to a maximum of three years of imprisonment and fine of between Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000 for first conviction, and imprisonment of not less than two years, but which may extend to seven years, and a fine between Rs 100,000 to Rs 500,000 for second conviction.

Police officers of the rank of inspectors will be authorised to carry out search and seizure, in addition to state and central government officers authorised by the respective government.

Director‘s Kut producer Rajan Shahi said there was a thin line that divides decency and indecency which is why self-censorship is the best mechanism for television. He also said that is best left to viewers to decide what they want to watch.

"I always believe that there should be self-censorship for television since it is a very impressionable medium and the family watches it together. Another thing is that in TV you have the power of remote, it?s your choice which programme you want to watch. There are options of privacy settings too, so one can control what content he wants to watch," Shahi avers.

Balki also believes that for something to be termed indecent, it has to be backed up by mass support. Otherwise people with vested interests will misuse the law.

"If somebody writes to the government that such and such is found indecent, there has to be a critical mass that agrees to the complaint. The question then is what will form that critical mass? And who decides or judges it? There should be very clear guidelines, otherwise it will become very subjective and vested parties will be at an advantage," he reasoned.

The IRWA Act focuses on indecent representation of women and brings under its ambit references that are derogatory to the dignity of women. The IRWA 1986 was enacted with the specific objective of prohibiting indecent representation of women through advertisement, publication, writing and painting or in any other manner.

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