Mumbai: The cabinet on Thursday approved the introduction of amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, in Parliament to cover new forms of audio-visual media such as Internet and satellite-based television broadcasting, among others. In its current form, the Act covers the print media.
The move has not gone down well with the television, online and advertising industries. Executives fear the law may be abused by the government to censor content.
The law was enacted in 1986 with the objective of “prohibiting” references that are derogatory to women in advertisements, publications, writing, painting or any other manner.
However, rapid changes in technology and the growth of new media pushed the government to widen the scope of the law to bring electronic and digital media under its ambit.
The key amendments approved by the government include bigger fines and an increased number of years behind bars. For the first conviction, the fine varies between Rs.50,000 and Rs.100,000 and carries a maximum sentence of up to three years. For a second conviction, the fine ranges from Rs.100,000 to Rs.500,000 and a jail term between two and seven years.
Police officials of the rank of inspector or above will be allowed to carry out search and seizure operations in a complaint on the indecent representation of women. In addition, any centre or state government employee can be appointed by the government for search operations.
“This is at best the government trying to distract people while it is under fire for corruption at an average a redundant law created by clueless do-gooders in a women’s organization, and, at worst a ham-handed attempt at censorship,” said online expert Mahesh Murthy, the founder and chief executive of Pinstrom, a digital marketing firm.
He added that the issues the amendments deal with are already covered under Sections 67A and 67B of the Indian IT Act as amended in 2008. “And it is there to even stronger effect—the punishments there are much harsher,” he said.
Priti Nair, director at advertising agency Curry Nation, said the development was “quite worrying. This will open a Pandora’s box as now you can misconstrue anything to be indecent”.
She said there should be guidelines or parameters that define “indecent”, else the amendments can, at best, be described as “blurry”. What constitutes “indecent” is subjective, she said.
Nair said the agency that presides over these issues must have representation of women across different socio-economic strata.
The industry also opposed the idea of gender discrimination regarding “indecency”. Mahesh Murthy said under the law male nudity was acceptable while an informational video on childbirth could be banned.
Nair agreed. She said the amendments should be gender neutral. “Why are they targeting women? Indecent representation of any gender across any form of media is not acceptable.”
What the media industry finds the most worrying is that what constitutes indecent will be left to a police inspector to decide.
“The IT Act, at least, has created a cadre of trained police officers who understand how the online world works. With all due respect to the police force, I believe the average police inspector in India is not the most reliable body capable of taking an informed decision on what is ‘decent’ and what is not,” Murthy said.
Television and radio broadcasting industry representatives were more guarded in their response.
Prashant Panday, chief executive of Entertainment Network India Ltd, which runs radio stations under the Radio Mirchi brand, said, “With media expanding into new territories, including the newer media under the ambit of the Act is a good idea. The only thing to keep in mind is this should not end up becoming a way to scuttle the freedom of media.”
Sunil Kumaran, business head, language TV at Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd, said: “Women today are icons and protagonists in films, television, music or the Internet. On the one hand, we speak of a progressive India, on the other we are greeted, on a daily basis, with shocking stories about women which need to be shared with audiences to show them reality as it is. The Act is welcome as long as it does not stifle the process of storytelling and defeat the very purpose of reaching out a positive message to society.”
Vidhi Choudhary in New Delhi contributed to this story.
Porn MMSes may invite prison term
Sending pornographic multimedia messages and emails may invite a jail term for a maximum period of three years. The Union cabinet on Thursday approved amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, which also proposes hefty fines on those found guilty of such acts. PTI