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SCARLET LETTER

An officious information and broadcasting ministry is not a healthy sign for a modern democracy. And this officiousness is especially worrying when its energies are channelled towards censorship. The Indian State has never been very clear in its thinking about “adult content”. There is something obscurely threatening about couples indulging their passions in bed that the government wants to protect its subjects (and itself?) from. Hence, four entertainment channels have been punished recently with temporary suspension for broadcasting films and trailers that were certified ‘A’. Only films, trailers and music videos certified as fit for “unrestricted” viewing may be used by cable services, according to the programme code of the Cable Television Networks Rule of 1994.

Restriction, generally speaking, is always a bad idea when it comes to inculcating a moral sense, especially in matters carnal. The allure of the forbidden is a truism that need not be rehearsed at length here. So, when the State’s censorship extends beyond certification towards actual prohibitions and punishments, then adult viewers with some stakes in the maintenance of their private freedoms should be worried. The internet, like the market, is a notoriously ungovernable entity, as today’s sexually and politically insecure States have begun to realize. This is not to say that the internet, and the entertainment media, exist outside the framework of right and wrong. But who sets the norms of these ethics, and who regulates and implements these norms, are what needs to be debated in a context of mature openness. Television is mostly watched in the home, in the realm of the family, in spaces that exist in the cusp of the private and the public. The regulation of what individuals under the age of 18 may watch largely rests on the adults who are responsible for the wellbeing of these minors. And that is how it must be in civilized societies. Once viewing material is clearly certified, parents and guardians should be trusted in their roles of being able to control the viewing of these programmes by those who are in their charge. As to what adults might do with representations of what they are free to do in the privacy of their bedrooms (coupling with varying degrees of emotional attachment), it is not the business of the State to lay down the rules.