Films and ads are often sexist. But they must be corrected by public opinion,not the I&B ministry
The information and broadcasting ministry has decided to do its bit for women,by encouraging better standards in the media and making sure that no sexist content slips through. It is now corralling all the professional and regulatory bodies in film,television and advertising to cooperate in this agenda. These bodies,including the Central Board of Film Certification,the Advertising Standards Council of India,the News Broadcasters Association and the Indian Broadcasters Foundation,have reportedly been asked to review their own principles,to balance free expression with a regard for aesthetics and sensibility.
While the ministry has been careful to avoid any whiff of censorship,and stressed the carrot rather than the stick,that directive could be ominous. The I&B ministry should remain mindful of its own limits,and that of public service messaging. Films,advertisements,music and entertainment are not setting out to beam social ideas into peoples unresisting brains they are simply an expression,a register of their feelings and values. It must also be remembered that all sexiness is not necessarily sexist,that desire is the great engine of advertising. Certainly,there are serious problems in the way some films and commercials address women,but these should be addressed by thoughtful industry bodies of their own will and shaped by public pressure rather than government fiat. Some advertising cynically exploits womens bodies,but it should be countered by popular revulsion. The I&B ministrys abstract guidelines for positive depictions of women are bound to be blunt instruments. If taken seriously,they could cramp the creativity and freedom of the entertainment industries.
It is refreshing that gender politics now figures in the public discourse in India whether it is about the threats to womens independence and safety or the way they are represented in popular music and entertainment. These debates have been held off too long,or considered trivial,and their airing is necessary. But at the same time,we must be wary of letting this moment be thoughtlessly captured. The I&B ministry would be better off drawing attention to sexism in media and entertainment,and working with public opinion,rather than imposing its own ideas on these industries.