Monday, February 6, 2023

Madras High Court slams media, says can’t show everything on TV in PILs over obscenity, gambling

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The Madras High Court on Tuesday expressed anguish over the kind of content broadcast on television, remarking that the media should show some responsibility.

The division bench of Justices N. Kirubakaran and B. Pugalendhi was hearing two PILs. The Court said, “There must be some control over TV also, even terrorists were viewing the television channel when the Taj was attacked (referring to the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks). Terrorists were taking cues from that and attacking the hotel. The media should have some responsibility.

“Merely because they don’t have censorship, they cannot throw anything and everything on the screen. Yesterday, a girl was butchered in Karnataka and it was shown on TV. What is the effect on children? We should have some responsibility to see that it is not shown on screen.”

“These are all social issues. What kind of effect it would have on children. They have impressionable minds,” the bench said. Moreover, the Court observed that right now the electronic media is at unavoidable level. Therefore, necessary rules and regulations have to come in place. Even a newborn child is now staring at the screen.

The Central Government submitted that it did not view such commercial games as amounting to online gambling, prompted the Court to retort. “How many people are addicted? How many have lost their lives? You may camouflage them as games of skill. You should see the reality,” the Court said.

Earlier, the Court had issued an interim order banning the broadcast of sexualised advertisements. When the matter came up yesterday, the Bench again expressed concerns over such content being broadcast. “Even during primetime, awkward content is shown, some of which is nothing but pornography,” it observed.

The Court further noted that whereas censor boards are there to monitor content in films, the Court mused whether any such pre-censorship mechanism is in place for advertisements. Sexual advertisements continue to be broadcast despite the Court taking up the matter.

Additional Solicitor General Victoria L. Gowri, appearing for the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, submitted that there were institutional mechanisms in place to monitor such content. Measures to block obscene content are outlined under the Information Technology Act, she submitted.

She pointed out that sexual advertisements are only permitted to be broadcast for limited hours, between 9 pm and the early hours of the morning. The 1995 Cable Television Network Act is also applicable to TV content, she added.

The Bench was, however, skeptical of how useful limiting the hours for the broadcast of such content would be, given that the time schedule for children may not be the same in the era of online classes.

Senior Advocate C. Manishankar, appearing for Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli, who has endorsed the fantasy sports platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) on Tuesday pointed out that the Tamil Nadu Government has already promulgated an ordinance banning online games and online gambling in Tamil Nadu.

Senior Advocate P.S. Raman pointed out that the online sports fantasy game Dream11 has been upheld by at least three High Courts. It was also a game of skill and not gambling, he asserted. In any case, Dream11 and My Circle11 has now been pulled out of Tamil Nadu and the company is awaiting legal advice following the recent ordinance against online games, in order to avoid any risk, the Court was told.

Given that the online gaming platforms have now pulled out of Tamil Nadu following its ordinance, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly, added that the purpose of the writ petition has been served and that the matter may be closed.

Also Read: Delhi HC to hear plea seeking blocking of Sci-Hub, Libgen websites

Additional Advocate General Sricharan Rangarajan submitted that the scope of the PIL cannot be narrowed down, and that celebrities also have to be held accountable in the matter.

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