Women as witches, practitioners of black magic and exorcism on television programmes, have to be banished from prime time following a strong advisory that went out on Thursday from the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), a self-regulatory body established by broadcasters.
The advisory is likely to set off a debate on freedom of expression and portrayal of women on television on the one hand, while raising concerns about content control by an independent regulator.
The BCCC directive was sent out to channels following complaints from viewers on superstitious content.
The advisory is binding on all entertainment channels. The Council was prompted to examine the contents of ZEE, Colours, Sun TV, and MAA TV and advised them to exercise caution while putting out programmes on occult, superstitions, black magic, exorcism, witchcraft, especially in the portrayal of women in a negative manner on air.
Justice (retired) Mukul Mudgal, who heads the self-regulatory body, told The Hindu that these programmes were getting too frequent on the channels. When contacted, the channels said they were in the process of examining the advisory.
The move by the BCCC comes close on the heels of similar observations made recently by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who said that astrology should be banned from channels.
Interestingly, the Council steered clear of astrology, though it is learnt the issue did come up for discussion among members.
The advisory reads: “While respecting the channels’ creative liberties, the Council believes that such portrayal should not be exaggerated and, therefore, considers it desirable to lay down certain guidelines for broadcasters and content creators.”
“Should any such depiction become absolutely necessary in line with the story, the channel must run a scroll during its telecast, disapproving of any such practice and describing it as a work of fiction.” BCCC sources said the disclaimer put out now before a show was not serving its purpose.
The Council has said that “if the content is based predominantly on themes of occult, superstition, black magic, exorcism and witchcraft, the channel should air such a programme during restrictive viewing hours.”
Essentially, this means the channels can show such programmes only after 11 p.m.
The Council also reminded broadcasters of Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution which urges citizens to develop a scientific temper, humanism, spirit of inquiry and reform.
“The BCCC believes that any such unreasonable and unjustifiable representation could have serious repercussions,” said the note to the channels, and drew their attention to some States that witnessed a rise in killings as a result of various social evils, most particularly witchcraft, practised by people inspired by superstitions.
The BCCC is an independent self-regulatory body set up by broadcasters to look into complaints from viewers on general entertainment channels.
Thirteen advisories have gone out so far from the Council since it was set up in 2011, making this advisory on superstition and black magic and their role in the portrayal of women, a first.
Violation of the advisory is a serious offence and requires the channel to apologise and edit the content deemed offensive.
If the channels persist and continue to violate the advisory, a fine of up to Rs. 30 lakh can be imposed. If they pay up and continue to violate the advisory, the matter is referred to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which issues the 10-year licence to broadcasters. Five offences committed by the channels lead to the licence being revoked.