The Madras High Court on Tuesday expressed anguish over the state of content broadcast via electronic media or on television, remarking that the media should show some responsibility.
A Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and B Pugalendhi was hearing two public interest litigation (PIL) petitions, one against the broadcast of sexual advertisements and another against online games such as fantasy sports league games and the celebrity endorsements of such games.
The hearings prompted the Court to take note of certain instances of irresponsible of television broadcasts.
Citing the example of broadcasts by the electronic media of the shootings at the Taj Hotel during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the Bench orally observed that even terrorists were viewing the TV channel when Taj hotel was attacked and were “taking clue from the broadcast”.
“There must be some control over TV also. Even terrorists were viewing the television channel. When the Taj was attacked. Terrorists were taking clue from that and attacking the hotel. They (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,” the Bench said.
Reverting to the topic of sexual advertisements, the Bench added that “without permission, they enter the house.”
The High Court opined that the State has a bounden duty to see that these kinds of advertisements cease.
“These are all social issues. What kind of effect it would have on children? They have impressionable minds!” the Court said.
Terming existing television regulatory mechanisms as toothless, the Bench orally asserted that there was a need to better regulate television content.
“Now electronic media is at unavoidable level. Therefore, necessary rules and regulations must come in place. Even a new-born child is now staring at the screen,” it observed.
As far as celebrity endorsements of online fantasy games were concerned, the Court remarked that the celebrities have a moral and social responsibility to society.
“Before taking any assignment – what is the effect on children? Please consider, that is all we can say“, the Court remarked while posting the matter for orders.
The Central government’s submission 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.”
Earlier, the Court had issued an interim order banning the broadcast of sexual 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.
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, the Court further noted.
Appearing for the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Additional Solicitor General Victoria L Gowri 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 the TV content, she added.
The Bench was, however, sceptical 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.
“… you know what time children are going to bed?“, the Court asked.
The Court further queried why the concerned authorities are not taking suo motu action against such advertisements, rather than wait for the Court to take up the issue.
Madras High Court urged to close proceedings in online gaming PIL against celebrities
Appearing for Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli, who has endorsed the fantasy sports platform Mobile Premier League (MPL), Senior Advocate C Manishankar on Tuesday pointed out that the Tamil Nadu Government has already promulgated an ordinance banning online games and online gambling in Tamil Nadu.
He reiterated submissions that MPL was a game of skill, rather than a game of chance or gambling. All the same, since the regulation of online gaming has now come in for Tamil Nadu, he argued that nothing survives in the PIL before the Court.
Senior Advocate PS 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 MyCircle11 has now been pulled out of Tamil Nadu and the company is awaiting legal advice following the recent ordinance against online games, to avoid any risk, the Court was told.
Allied submissions were also made by Senior Advocate V Karthic for actress Tamannah Bhatia and Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for former cricketer Sourav Ganguly.
Given that the online gaming platforms have now pulled out of Tamil Nadu following its ordinance, Rohatgi added that the purpose of the Writ Petition may has been served and that the matter may be closed.
Appearing for the State, however, Additional Advocate General Sricharan Rangarajan submitted that the scope of the PIL cannot be narrowed down, and that celebrities also must be held accountable in the matter.