Censorship

Two pieces of information got me thinking about censorship in India — Niranjana’s post on banned books and news that the Government of India (GOI) was taking action against Neo Sports.

Let me restate – my Neo Sports post on their advertisements on the West Indies tour stated that I personally found the ads tasteless and borderline racist. I also stated that I don’t think racism was the intent behind them. And that I thought it was silly for a company to build a brand using the ad since it offended a section of their customers.

Today, Srini very kindly updated me (thanks, Srini!) that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry headed by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has slapped a show cause notice on the channel asking it to explain itself.

What?? The way this should be moderated is by the market. If the public expresses their dissatisfaction to Neo Sports, that’s fine. If their shareholders hold them accountable, that’s fine. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry is redefining its bounds by overstepping them constantly. They’ve banned the Gandhi YouTube video, they briefly banned all blogspot.com domains, and they banned AXN Channel for showing “The World’s Sexiest Ads”.

Er, hello? No one is being forced to view any of these. Hate the YouTube video? Don’t watch it. AXN is a private channel that users pay for. If they don’t like the show, they will stop subscribing. The GOI has no business being in the censorship business – if they want, they can be in the ratings business. Slap an X or R rating on things, but let the consumer choose. Repeat after me, Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi – the market, the market, the market.

Here’s what I said to Niranjana –

The Indian Government is just insane. That’s why they ban things at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t matter what it is – books, movies, ads, whatever.

They are SO super-sensitive and want to avoid upsetting *anyone* that they ride roughshod over free speech. I think India is a terrible country to be an artist of any kind. You are subject to the whims of bureaucrats who are more concerned with not ruffling feathers than allowing artists to push the boundaries.

Aaargh. Yes, a pet peeve of mine…

  • Prithvi

    As right as I think you are on the subject of censorship, I wonder sometimes if artists savour the censorship since it’s a backhanded sort of attention that the arts really crave and also provides them with the mystique of being forbidden which falls in quite nicely with the notion of an artist as lonely Prometheus and bequeathes them with an outsider status… I remember how obsessed everybody became with blogging in Madras and Hyderabad during the blogspot ban in a healthy display of indignance! The GOI often achieves quite the opposite effect with these bans since books and videos appear instantaneously on the black market. I think they really need to rejig their understanding of incentives!

  • Vokay….

    I agree that the Neo sports ads did have a covert racism tinge. Now, when we criticise them – we forget the right of those people who made it. As a regulatory body, if govt has send them a notice,i dont think there is anything bad. If we wait for all the artistic expressions to be criticised by the people at the recieiving hand, it is going to go awry and chaotic. I agree, we have the choice to choose, but we aint an anarchy but we are under a democratic process, where the system hold the upper hand.

  • * recieiving hand

  • Shripriya

    @ Prithvi – I’m sure quite a few artists can draw inspiration from the feeling of being suppressed/raging against the machine etc. But I’m also sure that fades away if their work can’t really see the light of day (for example a movie not being able to release in the country)

    But I completely agree with you that a GOI ban immediately brings the artist and the piece of art publicity it might otherwise have not received.

    @ Clash – I respectfully disagree. I am not saying the government should never get involved with anything, but I think the GOI gets involved in too much and bans too much. At least let them put out parameters on what can and cannot be banned. And no vague statements like “things that hurt the sentiments of others”. Everything will hurt the sentiments of someone.

    So, if they are willing to put out guidelines that protect free speech and prevent true hate speech, I am all for it. What they are doing right now is making up the rules as they go along and that is terrible.

  • Agree with the Idea of parameters! We really need to have those.

    From a leftist’s point of view – Trotskyist are the one’s who championed the idea of free speech and expression, they were true to an extent but most of them are extreme right-wingers these days. Rightist view points which offer an overt freedom of speech but a covert way of stalking you- The American way (west has security cameras for 1 out of 4 people). We cannot have a free run; in the name of free speech, There should be some parameters set for these, but a democracy can always perform under the fallacies of an electoral system. It has to appease someone for the elections.

    In a non electoral system- there is hardly any scope of free speech.

    Then; are you ready to jump on to the bandwagon of anarchists?

    Cheers;

    Clash

  • Srini

    Shripriya,

    You must have known the DD-Neo Sports tussle for Indian cricket matches while you were in India. Neo Sports paid millions to get exclusive rights to Indian cricket broadcasting and DD wants to make money out of it. So basically its like you sow the field and when the time comes to harvest it, DD wants to make a profit by selling a part of what you have reaped.Now when Neo Sports refused to succumb to this and went to court, thats when PRD realised that the ads had racist overtones. SO its more like indulging in “I will show you the boss here” types and Not anything to with censorship.

  • It’s abt money money money…. high handed arm twisting by our government

  • Krishna

    Intellectual cowardice- That’s what censorship is. The (Congress led)Indian Govts. are some of the most craven….

    A Government currently constituted by (accused)murderers, thieves, and polygamists is trying to dictate morality to a BILLION PEOPLE? And who appointed them my moral policemen? My parents and my religion did a good enough job, thank you! I don’t need a Karunanidhi, a Shibu Soren, or a Laloo to tell me what I should do!

    These “secularists” banned the Satanic Verses before any Islamic Country did, banned the Da Vinci code which not even Italy did….. What, don’t have the guts to engage in intellectual discourse- if the questions are tough, shoot the questioner?

    Until we kick these morons imposing their hypocritical standards on us out of every country in the world (starting with its biggest democracy), there is little hope for the survival of free speech

  • Shripriya

    @ Srini and SloganMurugan – well, if it is about money and protecting DD, then there are conflict of interest issues out the wazoo! That’s even worse than plain old censorship that you can tackle head on.

    @ Krishna – I agree that it is intellectual cowardice. But I feel they are equal cowards towards all religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity etc.)

  • @Krishna – what is the activism you propose to combat the government’s intellectual cowardice? Do you think we should merely vote them out of office? Or a Sheridan-esque free press to protect liberties? I personally think a free press is the best way since the tough questions are answered when the issue is still piping rather than the simmered response of elections but I wonder about the media’s focus on sordid celebrity and the fact that lots of channels that reach the majority are just mouthpieces for political parties rather than neutral, critical reporters.

    Also I feel sure that most of these bans just fuel the sale of pirated versions of these books and movies so I really doubt if they are effective they are in suppressing the spread of ideas in a nation of at least some resourceful people 🙂 but I think you are right about how repugnant the very idea of censorship is in principle.

  • Krishna

    @Pritvi,

    A good question- powerlessly ranting against injustice is meaningless (and stressful 🙂 )

    On the press, I generally agree with Jefferson (an intellectual Titan) “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”. Unfortunately as he also said “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

    With the large illiterate and the literate apathetics, we need to rely on TV- I belive the best solution would be someone like NDTV inviting Mr. Munshi (et al) to an open debate on censorship. With skilled opponents, Mr. Munshi and his fellow censors should be reduced to a quivering mass in short order (one can dream!)

    While a “sathyagraha”- where a real journey to truth would require the mass purchase of all these banned books, isn’t really practical. I think censorship is an instance where people of conscience must actively violate an immoral law

    My bigger fear is that the press in India is no longer “free”- an insidious trend of self-censorship is on the rise- maybe due to past interest group pressures. For example, when the Danish cartoons were published, no news outlet in India even had the guts to take a stand supporting free speech(much less actually publishing the cartoons). Only an engaged populace (and brave editors) can help

  • @Krishna

    I like that expression – literate apathetics – They are really much more to blame for more than just media vehicles – don’t you think what people seem to demand from news has really degenerated? In England they have a non-profit group called the Hansard society to rouse interest in politics among youth and promote democracy – perhaps we need something like this for a more engaged populace.

    I haven’t read Jefferson on the subject but I think there are excellent essays on the subject by Tocqueville, Hume and even Paine. I still like Sheridan’s dramatic rousing speech the best.

    “Give me but the liberty of the press, and I will give the Minister a venal House of Peers, I will give him a corrupt and servile House of Commons, I will give him the full swing of the patronage of office, I will give him the whole host of ministerial office, I will give him all the power that place can confer upon him to purchase submission and overawe resistance.And yet armed with the liberty of the press, I will go forth to meet him undismayed, I will attack the mighty fabric he has reared with that mightier engine, I will shake down from its height corruption, and lay it beneath the ruins of the abuses it was meant to shelter.”

  • Manav

    I find Shripriya a bit confused. I apologize for a personal comment but you donot seem to be having any ideology. On one had you didn’t like what Neo sports did. On other hand when a Regulatory Body (Ministry of I&B) took cognizance of public feelings and did something. You still have a problem. And I am almost convinced, if Govt wouldn’t have responded somebody, perhaps you only, would have come back and said what the heck is Govt doing. After all it is by the people, of the people and for the people. So being a regulatory body it should be sensitive to public opinion.

    I somehow feel, none of us understand what democracy is. Expecially all of us who most of the time sit in AC rooms, seem to have developed a tendency to comment on almost anything and everything; and believe democary is all about different opinions, counter opinions and more counter opinions. We somehow donot like any check or regulation. Pls note it is Democray and not a synony of In-discipline of any sorts.

    I would have perhaps agreed with you if some religious fanatic organization would have done something in reaction to this. It would have been worth deploring because nobody can become self-styled ruler/regulator. But Govt ?? in this case. Arey its their job..otherwise who will do the moderation ??

  • Krishna

    @Manav

    Actually Manav, it’s quite simple- It’s called a matter of priority of cherished principles (or fundamental rights)

    The ACLU in the US is a great example of this. Many of their lawyers were Jewish and they vehemently opposed Nazism. However, they fought for the right of the US Nazis to march through predominantly Black/Jewish neighbourhoods. All because they believe the right to free speech and expression is paramount and trumps whatever “feelings” of loathing one might feel for another (Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say but I shall defend with my life your right to say it”)

    A botched and clumsy attempted cure can be worse than the disease

    Let’s say, for example, I believe that someone’s being an idiot. I can either (a) slap him or (b) educate him. While I “feel” he may deserve (a), I would violate his basic rights and therefore I should do (b)

    Just because one “feels” something doesn’t give one the right to restrict fundamental rights. While I too felt the ad had a slightly racist tinge, that doesn’t mean that I can destroy the constitutional right to free speech. The Indian Government, in its pandering to the lowest common denominator, does just that

    It’s unfortunate that experts on democracy like you don’t seem to be experts on the constitution too. Democracy functions only within a framework of laws. But a expert democrat like you already knew that…

  • Manav

    Its ironic the way constitution gets interpreted. Constitution also says “Right to equality” is the fundamental right. But its majority (may be not themselves but by their elected representative for whatever reasons)decide they want to treat some people unequally and instead give them more priviliges. They should get admissions at lesser percentage, they have right to block seats even if they are vacant. And the ocuntry which boasts to be the Best in the World also discriminates its population in a reverse way by having Law of Diversity. Is n’t that a violation of a constitution ?

    Further, you may want to read my last few lines again. Govt is the constitutional body hence has the right to act, whereas so called religious outfits are non-constitutional bodies.

    I donot claim expertise in Demoracy but I doubt if people understand Constitution either. Pls note, I am not making sweping statement, its only in context of raising hue and cry about Fundamental rights. Well point is if someone has right to speak, others also have right not to hear what they donot want to… And if there is a conflict then who does the arbitration ? Some regulatory constituional body…isn’t it ?

  • Shripriya

    @ Manav, thanks for reading my blog.

    Let’s leave aside the topic of reservation please. It is not relevant to this topic and I don’t want to go down that rat-hole on this blog post.

    Actually, the Government has to also live within the Constitution. Just because it is the GOI doesn’t mean it can violate the Constitution and the Supreme Court is there to ensure that.

    Yes, someone has the right to speak and others have the right to not hear – as you say above. But if someone is offended, their choice is only to choose not to listen. They do not have the prerogative to prevent the speaker from speaking. The GOI, unfortunately for them, also must adhere to these rules. Or they can try to change the Constitution. As they often try to do. Violating the Constitutional rights of some to protect the “hurt sentiments” of others is bunkum.

    Hopefully this clarifies my stand on why I find Neo’s ads distasteful but yet find the GOIs actions even worse. Krishna’s Voltaire quote is the best summary: “I disapprove of what you say but I shall defend with my life your right to say it”.