The Indian government has approved the introduction of amendments to the “Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986” in Parliament, to broaden the scope of the law to cover the audio-visual media and material in electronic form. According to a statement from the government, the amendments intend to extend the provisions of the act to cover newer forms of communication like internet, multimedia messaging, and others, beyond the print and audio-visual media.

Penalty: The government has also increased the penalties under the Act to a maximum of three years of imprisonment and fine to Rs 50,000 to Rs.1,00,000 for first conviction, and imprisonment of not less than two years, but which may extend to seven years, and a fine between Rs.1,00,000 to Rs.5,00,000 for second conviction.

Who is authorised to seize: However, the statement mentions that only Police officers above the rank of Inspectors will be authorized to carry out search and seizure, in addition to State and Central Government officers authorized by the State or Central Government. The amendments will have to be approved by the Parliament before they become part of the act.

Do we need a separate law?: According to the government release, the IRWA was enacted with the specific objective of prohibiting the indecent representation of women through advertisement, publication, writing, and painting or in any other manner. We are not sure how the government will enforce the provisions, and what the process of seizure would be, once these provisions come into force.

It will be interesting to see if major news portals which offer ‘celebrity picture galleries’ with candid photographs, and slideshows also feel the heat, since they often resort to voyeurism to increase page views and organic traffic. Also, these provisions might extend to social media websites like Twitter and Facebook, in addition to video sharing sites such as YouTube, and personal e-mail and MMS. So it might involve intermediaries such as web companies and ISPs. But given the fact that the IT Act already includes provisions for controlling ‘obscene’ content, including email, and there are other laws that prohibit distribution of pornographic material, do we need a separate law?