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Questioning The Basis For Broadcast Regulation In India – The Caravan

by Apar Gupta

the-caravanThe highest number of viewer complaints received by the Broadcast Content Complaints Council (BCCC), a two-year-old organisation responsible for the regulation of objectionable content on Indian television, has been about the reality television show Bigg Boss. A table of decisions, published online by the BCCC, indicates that the council is a repository of some exceptionally close, if not wildly radical readings of the morals of India’s hit shows by their audiences. Objections range from coarse language to obscenity. For example: “Contestants Imam and Rajiv Paul abuse each other. The abuses are often muted but they are still completely evident to viewers”, cites one complaint for an episode from January 2013. Another complaint for an episode that was aired in November 2012 says, “The programme showed the psychic-manic act of torturing a girl in the house by a contestant called Iman. His [sic] wears body-fits with a tiger mask, makes obscene gestures, smokes on prime time TV and indulges in excessive violence by breaking household items. He threatens to strip to get his wishes fulfilled by the programme’s controllers.”

However, the table of decisions shows us that the majority of the complaints received by the council for the fifth season of Bigg Boss, which ran from 2 October 2011 to 7 January 2012, were, in fact, not related to the content of the show at all. They were triggered by the mere participation of Sunny Leone, the pornographic actress of Indian origin who, though renowned abroad as a much-feted Penthouse Pet, among other things, was then barely known in India. This changed about two years ago, and her sudden popularity, it appears, caused considerable heartburn in conservative households. The constituency of the offended included industry associations and even leading national political parties, all pleading that her participation would indirectly promote pornography in India. “Thousands of youth including minors who were earlier not aware of Sunny Leone’s status or profession have been specifically searching for her photographs, biodata, etc on the internet,” said a letter from the Indian Artistes and Actors Forum to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Swift action was taken. The BCCC issued a notice to the broadcasting channel, Colors, strongly disapproving of the choice of the participant, and directing them to take greater care in future. It even recommended that all references to Bigg Boss should be removed from Sunny Leone’s website.

On 15 September this year, Colors launched the seventh season of Bigg Boss. We may well expect the latest edition to spark off a whole new set of complaints from its passionate viewers. Many of these will be at least as absurd as the objections to the television appearance of someone who happens to be an adult film star (Continue Reading)

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Apar Gupta is an advocate practising in the Delhi High Court and has a master’s degree in law from Columbia Law School. He is a partner at a law firm and a visiting lecturer at National Law University, Delhi.

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(C) 2013 The Caravan. Crossposted with permission. The Caravan is India’s first and only publication devoted to narrative journalism

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