Thursday, February 9, 2012

TV channels ‘stay in the loop'

The irony was unmistakable on news television across regional Kannada channels on Tuesday evening.
For, while news anchors pontificated on the “immoral” and “shameless” act of two ministers caught “enjoying” pornography on their small mobile screens, their channels aired, in a loop for at least five hours, close-up visuals of the video without so much as pixellating even sections of them.
The emphasis appeared to be more on the morality of watching porn, rather than the offense of watching these visuals in the Legislative Assembly where using mobile phones, even reading newspapers for that matter, is prohibited. Add to this tenor, the background score: at least two channels decided that images alone cannot titillate, and played music that appeared to be borrowed from a late-night soft porn movie segment.
So for hours on Tuesday evening, channels aired “fresh” — and of course, all “exclusive” — visuals, alternating between the two videos, one a soft porn video that appeared to be a strip tease, and the other, explicit pornographic images of a sexual act. Having made their point, some channels did blur the footage, but only after a good three hours. Notably, national television channels, which picked up the story from regional channels, blurred the footage right from the start.
Indeed, the channels did need to air these visuals to establish proof of content. But once the evidence had been established, did they go too far? For, the channels did not stop here. At least two leading channels, “traced the source” of the video (showing a woman in a ‘striptease’), downloaded it and played it in a loop. This footage — unlike the mobile screen shots from the assembly — occupied the entire TV screen, revealing the woman’s identity. This was a clear violation of her privacy.
The pretext was that the footage was being played to refute Minister Laxman Savadi's contention that he was trying to understand what a “rave party” was, or watching footage of exploitation in Iran or Egypt. This downloaded footage was aired for at least two hours, late into early hours of the morning.
Line crossed?
While channels can argue that it was in “public interest” and not with ‘intent to titilate’ -- making them not culpable -- did they cross a line by telecasting the downloaded video? In the second case, where close-up shots of the woman were aired, there is a violation of privacy, says Pranesh Prakash, legal expert. He points out that Courts have upheld an individual's right to privacy, barring only material in public domain or in public interest.
While there are several broadcasters; rules, most of which deal with self regulation, airing this footage indeed violates the Cable TV Act's programme code. The code prohibits content that “denigrates women through the depiction in any manner of the figure of a women, her form or body ... that is indecent, or derogatory to women”.
Media commentator, Sevanti Ninan, says, “That they showed footage without pixellating it, footage violated the Cable Act. Previously, too, for instance, in the telecast of the Swami Nityananda sex scandal video, the tape was not blurred and it is currently enshrined on YouTube, as this one doubtless will be.”

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