A report filed by a six-member sub-committee formed by the Press Council of India (PCI) has recommended the body against formulating uniform guidelines to tackle obscene advertisements. “Concepts of obscenity and vulgarity are evolving, it would be unwise for the Council to frame any guidelines or create a “one size fits all” formula that may not stand the test of time,” the report said.
The sub-committee was instituted in March 2016 following twin complaints against Bengali newspaper Ananda Bazar Patrika. It also deliberated on a complaint filed against allegedly misleading advertisements published in Dainik Bhaskar and Patrika, Indore.
Advising the PCI to adjudicate such complaints on a case-to-case basis, the committee said, “Any generalisation on “obscene” or “vulgar” advertisements was inadvisable.” It opined that US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous dictum of “I know it when I see it” should be applied while scrutinizing claims of obscenity.
“Standards of obscenity have evolved over the years in various jurisdictions, including in India, and the sub-committee felt it would be unwise to lay down guidelines beyond those already spelt out by the council,” it recommended.
The sub-committee claimed that an individual aggrieved by “obscene, vulgar, offensive or misleading advertisements” had many avenues in front of him/her. He/she could either withdraw subscription of the newspaper or complain to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASI) or PCI or institute proceedings under Indian Penal Code.
In relation to the particular complaints, the sub-committee felt that it would have to be seen whether the advertisements in question fail the obscenity tests as laid down by the Indian Penal Code, applicable case law and PCI’s code of professional conduct. It thus recommended the complaints to be taken up by the Inquiry Committee.