Serving up smut
`... we are simply in the same situation as other countries: grappling with media which uses technology to garner sexy pictures and content for morning broadsheets. Some readers think this is okay, others don't.'
WORLDWIDE ISSUE: "Reject pornography", say these students in Indonesia.
WHEN you have to worry about how to protect your child from pornography in the morning newspaper you know that you have been truly globalised. For one thing, the Indian offender is a newspaper with global pretensions: it tells us that it is the world's highest circulated broadsheet. For another, worrying about smut in the morning paper is something they are doing in China, Taiwan, the Philippines and in the United States. Everybody has the same problem.
A columnist in the U.S. writes about how her local newspaper is chock full of Internet stuff, much of it to do with sex. In the Philippines, at the beginning of this year, a bill was introduced in parliament to establish local print media monitoring boards in municipalities "to prevent the proliferation of obscene publications". In Taiwan there is a Media Monitor Alliance which can bring enough pressure on offending papers to show results. Last year, the Apple Daily removed some of its more sexually suggestive pages after the Alliance got after it.
And then there is China where you can get suggestive stuff on the State media, because it is far less offensive to the establishment than independent political reporting. The China Youth Daily, the People's Daily, and the State news agency Xinhua all serve up sex. Imagine Doordarshan or PTI doing something like this.
So when the Supreme Court in India admits a public interest litigation claiming an urgent need to shield minors from pornography in newspapers, we are simply in the same situation as other countries: grappling with media which uses technology to garner sexy pictures and content for morning broadsheets. Some readers think this is okay, others don't. If some readers did not approve the Times of India which has pioneered smut and erotica in the Delhi Times (sometimes in the guise of sex education), it would not be the highest circulated English paper in the country. People die to be featured in it!
Clearly in India, the climate is more permissible than it used to be, and you could argue that the media has helped make it so. Satellite television brought risque humour, American sexual mores and seductive movie clips into homes. It lowered the bar on what was permissible for families to watch together. But the only action from government or civil society in these 15 years has been hand wringing. Other societies get on with it and put checks in place. A permissive society like the U.S., under a President who was not averse to sex (Bill Clinton) implemented legislation that forced TV manufacturers to put in V-chips enabling parental control in TV sets.
Indian civil society now pushes for laws that it believes in, be it the right to information or greater transparency by election candidates. If it hasn't organised itself on this issue, it could be that it believes there are more pressing evils to tackle. Or that much of this falls in the parenting domain. Will the PIL change this? I doubt it.
Back in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that the airwaves belong to the people and a regulatory authority should be constituted to regulate the use of airwaves. There was no political consensus to make it happen, and no PIL was thought necessary by anyone to force the issue. So today you have no licensing authority which could cancel the licenses of TV channels which go overboard. There is a Press Council which does not seriously cramp anyone's style and we like it that way. If it had teeth, offending newspapers would lose the licence to publish.
The market is amoral: it does not care what sexual images or vocabulary do to the youth readership, it only cares that they buy its product. The Delhi Times's overriding effort is to sound with it, flaunting sexual openness is part of that. The regional media does the same. Punjab Kesari's Manoranjan on Sundays has a rich spread of scantily-clad lasses. All big Hindi papers now carry cut-outs of show biz stars on their ear flaps. If markets led by market leaders will do what they have to do, governments and societies should also do what they have to, even if the papers and channels cry foul. And if they do not, they only have themselves to blame.
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