In the last five weeks, India’s self-regulation regime on TV content has emerged without clothes.
RTI activist Devashish Bhattacharya, tipped off by a column I wrote in The Pioneer, produced hard evidence that TV18/Colors are co-accomplices in cross-promoting Bigg Boss5 contestant Sunny Leone and her flourishing porn business.
Also see Rohit Bansal's previous column on this topic:
Dev’s petition included copies of daily blogs authored by the porn star on www.sunnyleone.com, advance video with Colors logo posted alongside her literary efforts, lewd tweets by Colors’s affiliate channel MTV promoting her porn status, and mobile application downloads cross-promoted by her own staff on twitter.
After having hyped an unknown porn web link into India’s most googled site, Colors clutched at the straws on two counts: a) there hasn’t been any obscenity in the broadcast on their channel per se, b) the above-stated cross-promotion is conceded, but whatever happened is entirely Sunny’s doing. The channel is an innocent lamb.
With due respect to Justice (retd) AP Shah and some social do-gooders mandated by the TV industry to self-regulate these channels, here’s a report card. Marking is over five parameters, adding up to 50. Criticism welcome:
a) Ability to understand the complaint beyond the obvious fact that Sunny Leone didn’t strip on Colors per se (10 marks)
Reason: The self-regulator proved sagacious and willing to look beyond his nose, vide hitherto unexplored areas like Twitter, web links, blogs, etc.
But having done that the ‘regulator’, refused to see the hard evidence of complicity in how/why a porn star was selected by a channel in the first place, the pre-publicity in leading newspapers which left no one in doubt as to who she was, and where her websites and downloads can be found, and the easy links that twitter feeds of MTV and @SunnyLeone have with each other. But the fact is that the ‘regulator’ didn’t turn a blind eye to issues beyond the idiot box.
b) Ability to establish speed of action (10 marks)
Reason: Dev made the complaint on November 24, 2011. It was received by the ‘regulator’ on November 28. Listing took them 27 days. By then Sunny Leone became a household name. Not just her web page, her name itself became the most googled search in India. Once the verdict was delivered orally and Colors was given three days to ensure cross promotions were erased, a simple thing like a copy of the order (attached below in this column) wasn’t furnished to the complainant until late evening December 29. That too happened after Dev wrote a strong warning to the `regulator’ on December 28, putting them on notice returnable in 24 hours!
c) Willingness to administer exemplary punishment over a criminal matter (10 marks)
Reason: Conceding for a moment that Colors wasn’t an accomplice, nothing can take away the bare fact that at least Sunny Leone undertook a naked campaign to promote her web links, DVDs, downloads and mobile apps. That all this happened for four weeks without Colors throwing her out, should the channel have been shamed for what happened to millions of children and vulnerable publics using the internet and the social media? Also, in a statement to The Times of India, Colors has gotten away stating it has been “requested”, by the ‘regulator’ to undertake some action. Is that an honest admission about what the quasi-judicial trial was: the ‘regulator’ being reduced to ‘requesting’ a channel to very kindly do something that gets the monkey off their back?
d) Willingness to penalize Sunny Leone (10 marks)
Wajahat Habibullah, a member of the ‘regulatory’ body, went on record to state that what Sunny Leone (he remained silent on Colors) had done is a criminal act under Indian law. Having stated just that in the order that was finally shared with the whistleblower after such unseemly delay, the ‘regulator’ didn’t initiate a police complaint to that effect.
e) Willingness to go beyond window dressing on behalf of channels which pay for the upkeep of the ‘regulator’ (10 marks)
Reason: To its credit, the ‘regulator’ made the right noises and expressed severe displeasure about the choice of a porn star. It cautioned Colors to exercise more restraint in future, effectively shutting the door on future porn stars. But in the hearing, and from what Colors has stated in its compliance statement (attached with this column), the regulator ensured that the channel got away on the moral dimension, the fig leaf being that whatever happened did, “perhaps knowingly or unknowingly”.
If “unknowing”, errors weren’t such a big deal, is the self-regulator Justice AP Shah, a former chief justice of Delhi high court, telling the supreme court where he wasn’t elevated that news channel Times Now isn’t worthy of a massive fine for confusing between a lower court judge and one belonging to the apex court?
This is the face of industry-financed self regulation. In the Colors case I could give it 12/50, ie, 24 percent. The process appeared like a charade to protect a member channel and demoralize an ordinary whistle blower. Did I expect more if those selecting porn stars paid rental and salaries of the court?
Dear Mr. Bhattacharya,
This is with reference to your complaint dtd. 24th November, 2011 to the BCCC regarding the programme “Bigg Boss-5” aired on Colors channel (Viacom 18) and the subsequent hearing with the BCCC held on 23rd December, 2011 at the IBF Secretariat in Delhi.
Please find enclosed the abstracts of the minutes of the BCCC meeting held on 23rd December, 2011 along with BCCC’s decision. Also please find enclosed a letter dtd. 26th December, 2011 received from Colors (Viacom 18).