- A PIL has been filed by one H Naghabhushan Rao on grounds of his concern over the reaction of the media in the Ramesh Jarkiholi CD controversy.
- The controversy, which had sexual contents, were repeated by the reporting journalists loudly and clearly, with the descriptions of the compromising positions the alleged people of the controversy were in.
- The language used by such media channel hosts were also regarded as foul by the petitioner.
- Concerned by the lack of censorship of the content of media, and lack of legislation and regulation regarding the same, the petitioner sought for framing of rules regarding the same.
- The Karnataka HC has ordered the State Government, the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, the Police officials and the Union of India to respond to the claims of the complainant.
- The matter is scheduled to be heard next on 7th June.
The State Government was directed by the Karnataka High Court to provide a response of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed to seek the framework of statutory rules to prevent the publication of obscene visuals by the media and to recognise and consider such publication as a cognizable offense.
The rules that are sought by such PIL intend to prevent the publishing by of indecent, obscene, violent, sexual video, audio and images and its graphic effects by media houses.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) was also directed to respond to the PIL in this regard.
The PIL further sought from the Court directions to the State Police Officials not to leak information or evidence regarding any ongoing investigation to the press, public or media.
Such petition was filed by one H Naghabhushan Rao, and the matter was heard by a division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Suraj Govindaraj.
The plea is scheduled to be heard next on the 7th of June.
The Union of India, Commissioner of Police, the State Government of Karnataka, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) were notified by the Hon’ble Court to response to the instant PIL.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed, keeping in mind the response of media in the CD scandal involving BJP MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi and a woman, where video recordings of the politician offering jobs in return of sex to the 25 year old woman.
Such a scandal resulted in a political storm in the State of Karnataka and eventually led to the MLA resigning from his office post such allegations.
Even though the police and the Politicians were mute spectators to the storm, the media left no stone unturned to publicize the sleazy contents of such video.
The petitioner was concerned with the display of such content to the general public, without any censorship and, it was based on this concern that the Court was approached.
The petitioner opined that the display of such “obscene” content without any censorship or regulation might adversely impact the quality of life of the individuals who might accidentally be exposed to such content.
CONCEPT OF OBSCENITY
Obscenity is described in the Mariam-Webster’s dictionary as “something that is disgusting to the senses; abhorrent to morality or virtue; or repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles.”
The obscenity of an act, content or art of any sort is determined by the standards of the society and the perception of the implication of such sort of thing on the minds of the people constituting the community.
The idea of obscenity has seen massive changes throughout the arc of time. If we consider early humans, they have been known to have created masterpieces of art in the form of statues, sculptures and paintings in caves and temples. Such art has been known to attract tourists from all over the world. Such works of art captured the way of life of the early humans in a crude form, ranging from nude figurines of males and females, to the couples consummating their relationships. The display of such art depicting their lifestyle in places of their residence and worship show their acceptability of such form of art.
The civilised people living in the modern society have been known to be very disapproving of such form of art that are curated by modern minds. Up until the 20th century, the display of nudity or sexual innuendos have been known to have invited a of repulsion and thereafter, protests.
Indian culture, being deeply conservative and prudent, has not been known to be accepting of nudity, impolite language or videos or graphics displaying any sort of sexual content. Such repulsion is mainly observed in such mediums of art which have a relatively high audience.
The Indian audience has been particularly known to be very eager to protest to remove the content of various cinematograph films. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has been entrusted with the responsibility of determining if a certain portion of the movies would be classified as obscene for the purposes of displaying such content with the general public.
A few instances of censorship due to obscenity would include:
• The film Gulaabi Aina (the Pink Mirror) was banned by the Censor Board in 2003 for being vulgar and offensive in certain places. The movie was based on life of transsexuals.
• In 2011, the Censor Board demanded the American movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo be cut in five places, owing to being “vulgar” and displaying nudity, pursuant to which the director refused to release the film in India.
• In 2015, the art-house Malayalam feature film Chaayam Poosiya Veedu (the Paintedd House) was denied certification by the Censor Board when the director refused to cut three visuals and one audio from the movie, owing to vulgarity. Such scenes were considered obscene due to the display of female nudity in the film.
The case Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr v. The Central Board of Film Certification, in 2016 can be regarded as a recent case where the censorship of the movie Udta Punjab brought about many controversies. The controversy arose when the CBFC disallowed the certification of the movie on the ground of rampant use of expletives, which was regarded as obscene and contrary to the public policy in the country. After much struggle, the Bombay High Court awarded the judgement in favour of Phantom Films Ltd. and directed the Censor Board to certify the release of such film.
DETAILS OF THE INSTANT CASE
Concerns were expressed about the present legislations which authorize the content that is displayed by the media houses and movies.
The Section 5 of the Cable TV (Regulation) Act, 1995 restricts the transmission or re-transmission of any content, by cable service, unless it is in conformity with the prescribed programme code. However, the term “programme code” is an ambiguous term which has nowhere been defined in the legislation.
The petitioner also brought to the attention of the Court that the Cinematograph Act provides with the guidelines of the censorship that is to be compulsorily adhered to by all cinematographed films. But the media houses lacked any regulation to that effect even though the reach of audience for the news media channels were perceived to be much higher than audiences of movies. Also, the audiences of movies could be monitored in various cinema halls, etc., whereas news channels should have proper guidelines to adhere to not only regarding the content, but also language of the anchors of such news channels.
The plea claimed legislation pertaining to monitoring and regulation of content to be displayed by media.
The petitioner further claimed that restriction be imposed on the police officials so that the incriminating evidences or information of ongoing investigations are not leaked to the media houses or the public, so that the public does not form an opinion about the case before the investigators and the judiciary.
The plea stated, "No doubt if there is a crime the law has to take its own course to reach its logical conclusion. However, the media cannot decide who has to be the accused and who has to be the victim and also who has to investigate the case. Hence the same has to be regulated and the media houses are to be prevented from publishing such clips in the news to meet the public peace, tranquility and order."
The Censorship of vulgar, obscene content, or content capable of invoking hatred or lack of peace and harmony in the minds of the general public is an effective way of monitoring the content that is displayed and thereby reaches the audience.
Even though some contents fall in the purview of the Freedom of Speech and Expression which is guaranteed as a fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights also contributes to it being recognised as a right.
Such rights are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restrictions by the regulating authority, such restrictions are to be based on solid grounds, keeping in mind the culture of the prospective and targeted audience and the level of perception of the content that is displayed.