Saturday, August 26, 2006

Commerce, cosmopolitanism, and bans

Source: The Hindu

In an age where the flow of information cannot be stopped, are bans of the kind recently witnessed in Mumbai — on telecasting films with an "A" certificate — the right thing?

MUMBAI IS fast gaining the reputation of being not India's commercial capital but its "moral" capital. In the course of the last decade, there have been a string of incidents that have illustrated the extent to which moral policing is gaining ground. From stopping couples sitting near the sea-face, to banning bar girls to the most recent ban on telecasting films with an "A" certificate, Mumbai is taking the lead. For a city known for its modernity and cosmopolitanism this is, indeed, a strange turn. Are these trends accidental or are they part of a larger politics that is redefining the city?

Take the latest controversy, on which popular opinion is almost as divided as on the question of allowing girls to dance in bars. When a professor of political science from St Xavier's College petitioned the Bombay High Court, asking for a ban on the telecast of films certified "adults only" because they were adversely affecting children, most people did not take the issue seriously. They did not expect that the Bombay High Court would respond by asking cable operators to black out all such films. Despite its order of December 21, 2005, nothing happened. In any case, it would not have been possible for individual multi-system operators (MSOs) to check each day's programme on the movie channels, determine whether any of the films scheduled to be telecast had been certified "A," and then blank them out.

The status quo continued until the petitioner realised the court's order was not being implemented. Once again she moved the court. This time the High Court threatened to slap contempt of court on the Mumbai police if they did not act. And so they did. On a Sunday night, when many families sit back to watch a film on television, they suddenly found their television sets blank. To protest the police raids on MSOs, all cable operators simply turned off their transmission. The whole of the next day there was complete confusion; no one knew exactly what had happened. The local cable operator only had piecemeal information. Without even news channels, barring Doordarshan, people had no access to "breaking" news. Late that night, all other channels were restored except the movie channels when Home Minister R.R. Patil assured cable operators that they would not be penalised for something that was out of their control.

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