The television industry had its hands full last week. While the 2G scam had the Government in its grip, and the publishing of taped conversations of leading editorial figures with a well-known corporate lobbyist kept many busy in all kinds of discussions, the first half of the week was about the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB). Following intense debates on the nature of content of the shows ‘Bigg Boss’ on Colors and ‘Rakhi ka Insaaf’ on Imagine, the MIB directed the two channels to change the timings of these shows to 11.00 pm or later, dubbing them as ‘adult’ content.
Imagine decided to follow the order, but Colors, which had much more at stake given the investments in ‘Bigg Boss’ and the fact that the show features in its daily primetime, challenged the order in court and managed to get a stay as well.
The developments led to a flurry of questions. Some supported Colors in taking a stand and defending the content on its channel, while some are still wondering what would happen in the next hearing scheduled for November 22, and whether Colors would be forced to change the timing of the show. If the timing changes, it would be interesting to see if Colors can hold on to its ratings, and in the process help build the 11.00 pm slot on television, where at present, only Star Plus airs original content amongst the Hindi general entertainment channels.
Not just broadcasters, but advertisers and agencies also have a view on these developments, and there are very interesting points that have come forth in the course of these conversations. I must, however, admit that the one point that I find many don’t know how to respond to is what governs such decisions of the MIB. Yes, true, in black and white, there is Code of Content that guides authorities on the kind of content that should be shown on television, but the number of instances that have flummoxed one with the MIB’s approach leads one to think – Colors did the right thing in challenging the Ministry. No one wants to question the law of the land, but when it becomes unexplainable, then law enforcers need to bring clarity.
Let’s consider the example of ‘Sach ka Saamna’ in 2009. The show that was based on international format ‘Moment of Truth’ was designed as a format where voluntary and informed participants answered questions, intimate and personal ones included, about their life. Following all kinds of debates from different quarters last year, Star Plus voluntarily decided to change the timing of the show to 11.00 pm. As one can understand even from the November 16, 2010 dated order to Colors and Imagine, the 11.00 pm to 5.00 am is considered as a safe time band for adult content. However, MIB at the time wasn’t quite satisfied with Star Plus just changing the slot and again issued a warning to the channel. Star Plus then took the matter to the court, and in a sense, it still needs a closure.
If one sees some of the other content playing on television at present, MIB’s stand becomes further unclear – what classifies as ‘adult’ content? What is the kind of content that is allowed at the 11.00 pm to 5.00 am slot? Does this differ from channel to channel, or genre to genre, given the difference of mass audience channels and niche audience channels? Are the benchmarks different for Hindi programming from English from regional programming?
Getting specific to the Colors’ instance – Colors got a stay for ‘Bigg Boss’, but does that automatically mean the news channels that show excerpts from the show were exempted too?
One cannot deny that the last two years have seen one of the more open and positive Information and Broadcasting Ministry, where growth of the Indian media industry features on the Ministry’s agenda. Perhaps that is one reason why this lack of clarity is perplexing for at least someone like me, who expects that the present MIB would approach content with a common sense that even a lay person like me can understand.