28 February, 2021

The Witness May Shut Up

The I&B ministry can’t be accuser, prosecutor and judge

The Witness May Shut Up

Back in the mid-’90s, the menace of erratically mushrooming cable television networks could well have been sorted out with controls on the distribution and technological side of the business. But while enacting the Cable TV Act of 1995, Parliament added provisions intended to regulate ‘content’ too. And the law made the violation of these provisions—under ‘Programme Code’ and ‘Advertisement Code’—a penal offence.

These rules laid down a seemingly comprehensive, but rather incomprehensible, set of standards that were required to be followed in any programme broadcast in India. For instance, the Programme Code bars anything that “offends against good taste or decency”, or “contains visuals or words which reflect the slandering, ironical and snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups”. Besides the odd phrasing, the ideas contained there are elastic enough to mean anything—or everything.

When our Republic was new,...

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