India’s Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) has issued a notice to the channel Star World for showing a ‘homosexual encounter’ and ‘denigrating women’ in the popular American medical drama series Grey’s Anatomy.
The notice was given after a complaint from the ministry of information and broadcasting which described the scenes as ‘indecent’ and ‘vulgar’. BCCC, a self-regulatory body set up by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, has asked for a reply from the channel by Dec. 1.
Homosexuality is still illegal in India, under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This law dates back to 1860, the period of British rule, and criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature”.
This is the latest instance of TV channels being held responsible for offensive content. In 2013 and 2014, the government had ordered the entertainment channel Comedy Central to be taken off-air for a total of ten days, after a similar complaint by the information and broadcasting ministry over its “obscene and vulgar” content. The government had objected to the showsStand Up Club and Popcorn, for scenes that “depicted women as a commodity of sex” and threatened “public morality”. The ban cost the channel around Rs 60 lakh and came in for a lot ofcriticism on social media.
According to the Indian Broadcasting Federation’s guidelines, any viewer can file complaints on the grounds of ‘sex and nudity’, ‘drugs, smoking, tobacco, solvents and alcohol’, ‘social values’, ‘libel, slander & defamation’ etc.
Indian broadcasters airing American movies and TV shows follow a form of self-censorship to avoid being penalised like Comedy Central. This involves a careful screening process to removeany potentially ‘objectionable’ scenes and dialogues. Potentially offensive words are muted and replaced with politically correct versions in the subtitles. For instance, earlier this year the season five finale of Game of Thrones was edited to half of its original length.