For some years now, TV channels have been censoring themselves to preempt any reaction or action by self-styled upholders of morality and an over-cautious government. Words such as ‘beef’, ‘sex’, ‘gay’, ‘mosque’, ‘chick’ have been beeped out or replaced with ‘less offensive’ synonyms, to ridiculous effect. Shows with decidedly mature target audience.
such as Californication, Two and a Half men, or even innocuous food and travel shows, have often been stripped of their essence so as to appease a certain section of the audience. The recent ban on Comedy Central is a case in point. The channel has been showing somewhat risqué content ever since its launch in 2012. But most of the potentially contentious shows were slotted over the weekends and late in the night, with an eye on a very niche, discerning and mature audience. It was only after the I&B ministry observed that a couple of its shows objectified women as “commodity of sex” and that it would “deprave, corrupt and injure the public morality and morals” that a 10-day ban was forced upon the channel and the same upheld by the Delhi High Court. The channel subsequently was back on air after a Supreme Court judgment, that also challenged the provisions of the law that allowed the I&B Ministry to take action against TV channels and brought up the hotly debated issue of what exactly is ‘objectionable’ and how the government should tackle such content.
As a nation we seem to be easily offended. Take the instance of the Telangana CM who ensured that the two channels TV 9 and ABNAndhra Jyothi, that reportedly aired a satire on the political affairs were yanked out of service, without nothing ‘official’ about the blackout. The chief minister, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, went on to declare a ‘war’ against the media, stating that that any such offenders would be ‘buried alive.’ The CM’s threats incurred the wrath of media bodies and TRAI, which rapped the Multi-system Operators that had ‘voluntarily’ blanked out the channels.
Interestingly, the MSOs insisted off the record that that the ban was ‘ordered’ by the state government even though there was nothing officially conveyed to them. The KCR government too claimed it had nothing to do with the episode.
All this, if anything, is only driving the TV viewing audience to the digital platform, which is unfettered by moral and political policing. And that alone should serve as a wakeup call to broadcasters who are heavily dependent on advertising revenues to drive business. Unlike in the West where television is driven by subscription, and viewers are willing to pay a premium for no-ads channels, in India, advertisers call the shots. And sometimes with disastrous effects, as we have seen in the case of the Amul Adani sponsored Masterchef India, which is willing to alienate a majority of its viewers to cater to the culinary and religious sensibilities of the Gujarat-based corporate giant.
“This is only driving the TV viewing audience to the digital platform, which is unfettered by moral and political policing. And that should serve as a wakeup call to broadcasters”
The increasing emphasis that broadcasters are putting on distributing their content on the digital platform could be an indicator of where things are headed. Uncut movie clips and trailers have already been generating eyeballs on YouTube. Brands have been launching special promotional movies customised for the digital and social media platforms. Comedy shows have their wild, loyal fan following on social media, where they are unafraid to tackle humourless TV anchors and politicians with a healthy dose of laughter.
TV viewing habits are changing across the country. From the scenario where we had one family gathered around the TV set to view their programmes ‘by appointment’, we are moving to the more personalised screen. Globally too, people spend more time watching content on their mobiles than on their television, and there too Smart TVs with their ability to play from your phone or YouTube puts the ball firmly in the viewer’s court.
Censorship on television, in the avatar it has been rearing its head, could well be undone in the not-so-distant future. What may remain however is the covert control exercised by corporates that now own media conglomerates, who decide what exactly to put out there. And that, is a different story altogether.