How the small screen is working sans any regulation in Kerala

A crowd at the Cochin International Airport to receive the participant of a reality show who was evicted, ignoring the directives for social distancing

A crowd at the Cochin International Airport to receive the participant of a reality show who was evicted, ignoring the directives for social distancing   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Guidelines for television content is more honoured in the breach than in the observance in the case of Malayalam channels

Tragedy porns, soap sagas and reality shows have become the staple of Malayalam television. Viewer fatigue might have forced television channels to take a hiatus from certain kinds of reality shows and jaded themes. But that, for sure, is going to be a mini-break and the programmes are sure to return in glittering new formats. Meanwhile, programme heads are furiously reworking old favourites and remodelling some worn-out staples of international channels for Malayali audiences. Some of the serials have even been given titles of yesteryear hits of Malayalam cinema. Originality is perhaps a rare phenomenon on our small screen. The series, serials and programmes on the small screen have been cruising along sans any regulations or guidelines that are enforced on cinema.

However, recently, an episode in a reality show on a leading private channel, in which one of the participants had applied chilli paste on a fellow participant’s eyes, raised a hue and cry. Eventually, the sadistic participant was thrown out of the show and that created an uproar among a section of viewers. Moreover, to add insult to injury, while many in Kerala were trying to conform to the government’s directive to maintain social distancing to contain the coronavirus outbreak, a crowd that gathered at the Cochin International Airport to receive the unconscionable misogynist who had been evicted from the show shocked and angered many. The State government immediately took action against those assembled there and the contestant was arrested and so were some of his supporters.

Dubbed versions of Hindi serials such as ‘Naagin’ have become a staple on Malayalam television

Dubbed versions of Hindi serials such as ‘Naagin’ have become a staple on Malayalam television   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The incident and the profusion of misogynistic sob sagas, serials promoting superstition, inappropriate content for children and talk shows involving children have raised questions about the need to take a closer look at what is being telecast on the idiot box.

“Actually, most of the channels seem to be in the dark about a broadcasting code that is universally followed. BBC has a regulatory authority called Office of Communications (Ofcom), the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting industry in the UK. There are very strict guidelines by Federal Communications Commission in the US, European Broadcasting Union and so on. In India, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council looks into complaints about content telecast on TV channels. Programmes are supposed to adhere to the Indian Broadcasting Foundation’s Self Regulatory Guidelines as well as Programming Code. So, when these private television channels apply for licensing, all of them give an undertaking that they will follow the existing guidelines in the country, which includes a code for broadcasting, one for commercials on the channel and so on, which is all very detailed and they also pay a bank guarantee and undertake that the guidelines will be followed in letter and spirit. Unfortunately, none of the private channels do that. Either they are not aware of it or the guidelines are pretty loose,” explains K Kunhikrishnan, former Additional Director General of Doordarshan and the first director of Doordarsan in Kerala.

He adds that private channels “operate only for commercial gains and influence-peddling. So, normally, the government in power ignores it. But there is a limit to which the government can ignore this. There must be some mechanism to oversee what goes on in the name of entertainment, infotainment, news and news-based programmes on television screens. Television monitoring systems are expected to be followed at the State level but I am not aware of any such committee in Kerala. In 2017, the Supreme Court had directed that the media monitoring committees should be made operational. But nothing is followed here. One does not have unfettered freedom to say anything about anybody, and right now, there are many programmes that get away with murder,” he adds.

Asha Joseph, Dean of Cinema and Television Studies at Sacred Hearts College, Thevara, and a former TV producer, says the history of television can be divided into two: the Nehruvian and after. Till the nineties, television channels, even Asianet, the first one in Kerala to come up in the private sector, existed in the Nehruvian era and followed socialist ideals and a progressive, developmental agenda.

“But by the late nineties, all that vanished and now the only aim of every channel is to make money and win TRP ratings at any cost. Everything else has been thrown to the wind. There is no social responsibility or ethics followed and, unlike cinema, which is subject to several restrictions, television seems to be a free for all. There is not even an effort to encourage a scientific temper. The kind of violence that is shown on screen towards children and inappropriate content involving children are shocking. The less said about the so-called programmes for children and involving children, the better. By telecasting sob sagas, channels have steadily eroded our sensibilities and encouraged a kind of voyeurism that does not bode well for a good society. And remember, television comes into our homes,” she says.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that even the worst of revivalist content in soaps and programmes get sponsors, and channels go all out to promote it to win eyeballs. As Kunhikrishnan points out, such programmes are watched by viewers between the ages of two and 90, especially women.

Psychologist and actor Mala Parvathy says the government must undertake studies at the earliest to understand the damage caused by each show and programme, especially those that promote patriarchy, misogyny and negativity. “It is a celebration of mediocrity and sensationalism. By constantly beaming such unrealistic content, we are grooming a desensitised generation who might feel that the violence, physical and emotional, dysfunctional families and unrealistic women characters they see on screen are real. Some of the reality shows encourage body shaming, incredibly cut-throat competition and all the negative aspects that appeal to the basest characteristics in us. Instead of fostering positivity, sadly, the programmes encourage a narcissistic attitude,” she explains.

Parvathy says there must be some sort of mechanism to see that the content on television does not go against the laws of the land or promote voyeuristic and revivalist ideas.

The first season of ‘Kuttippattalam’ was banned after complaints were raised against it

The first season of ‘Kuttippattalam’ was banned after complaints were raised against it   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Agreeing with her, veteran anchorperson Rekha Menon says: “As far as I’m concerned, such content is completely unacceptable and is to be flagged immediately. Nevertheless, calling for a ban on something, however regressive it may be, is not the answer. As it is, we are living in an age where freedom of expression is under threat. A ban will just open a Pandora’s box. However, it is important to call out misogynistic acts, and the fact that there is a backlash against this completely horrendous behaviour on the part of a participant in a popular show is a good sign. The only way such unacceptable behaviour can be countered is by putting pressure on the producers, channel and advertisers and send a strong message that this kind of content is not acceptable. Public opinion is a strong weapon and must be used. Nothing works better than flagging something as unpopular since that is what makers of popular content want their products to be. It is a good sign that there is a strong anti-current to this.”

She adds: “This misogyny is not surprising, considering the regressive stuff that our daily soaps are full of. There should be a backlash against that as well. We are fighting against a mindset here and the only way to do that is to voice your opinion strongly against all such content.”

Instead of a censor board on the lines of cinema, all of them agree that the need of the hour is a self-regulatory body in all television channels that keeps a close watch on what is telecast and evaluates them and then take necessary steps to flag and stop content that is not in keeping with the times we live in. “The kind of stuff that is being aired does not do us any credit as a creative people or as viewers of such sub-standard programmes,” sums up Parvathy.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 3:06:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/how-television-channels-are-working-sans-any-regulations-or-guidelines/article31161816.ece

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