Moralising, or at least policing in the name of morality, seems to have become the preferred activity of the Union Ministry for Information and Broadcasting. The ministry has ordered TV channels not to screen advertisements for condoms between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. The “advisory” issued by the ministry infantilises the people and belies the promise made by the prime minister during the 2014 elections and repeated often since — of “minimum government, maximum governance”. It also shows that the ministry does not grasp the realities of media in the 21st century, which render such bans and restrictions futile, if not counter-productive.
This year alone, the CBFC, which reports to the I&B ministry, and which more often acts as a censor rather than a body that certifies films, refused to certify Lipstick Under My Burkha in part because it was “lady oriented”. Sexy Durga, renamed S. Durga, was not allowed at the Goa international film festival despite a court order that the film be screened. Dos and Don’ts on what people can watch, read and hear seem par for the course. The justification for the current restriction cites provisions of the Advertising Code of Cable Television Network Rules of 1994 which bar ads that create in children “any interest in unhealthy practices” like begging. The code also disallows ads based on broad terms, such as if they are “vulgar” or “offensive”. Condom advertisements have been aired for decades now. Surely, attacking companies for advertising their products cannot help “ease of doing business” either.
But most importantly, the very idea of imposing bans and restrictions as a way of “protecting” children is outdated. Even before the internet age, people found ways to access restricted content. Now, it’s easier than ever. The I&B ministry simply cannot police the internet. In fact, that it still believes that young people are glued to day-time television shows how out of touch it is. Adult content, even when banned, is available online quite easily. A scene that was removed by the CBFC from Lipstick Under My Burkha, for example, has over 14 million views on YouTube. And there are platforms with far less restriction than the Google subsidiary. In any case, condoms are among the cheapest and safest ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases. The way to deal with these topics is through a conversation, not a government-imposed silence.