By Dewal Nath Tripathi, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.

Censorship of media, which involves the suppression of speech or other public communication, raises issues of freedom of speech, which is nominally protected by the Indian constitution. This plays a very pivotal role in Indian media and we are bound to follow the rules set up by the government.  Nowadays it is up to the government whether they want to allow it to be aired or not which has led to a situation where we have started questioning the very essence of such a law. Though it is important to have a regulatory body which looks after boundaries of free speech but it should in no manner behave as a ban on spreading thoughts. According to the Information Technology Rules 2011, objectionable content includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order”.

In India, watching or possessing pornographic materials is fully legal, however distribution of such materials is banned. The Central Board of Film Certification allows release of certain films with sexually explicit content (labeled A-rated), which are to be shown only in restricted spaces and to be viewed only by people of age 18 and above. Even India’s public television broadcaster, Doordarshan, has aired adult films. Films, television shows and music videos are prone to scene cuts or even bans, however if any literature is banned, it is not usually for pornographic reasons. Pornographic magazines are technically illegal, but many soft-core Indian publications are available through many news vendors, who often stock them at the bottom of a stack of non-pornographic magazines, and make them available on request. Most non-Indian publications (including Playboy) are usually harder to find, whether soft-core or hardcore. Mailing pornographic magazines to India from a country where they are legal is also illegal in India. In practice, the magazines are almost always confiscated by Customs and entered as evidence of law-breaking, which then undergoes detailed scrutiny.

There are many mediums of censorship in India such as press, films, music, drama, books etc. Certain censorship is necessary such Film censorship becomes because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed word. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has as much potential for evil as it has for good and has an equal potential to instill or cultivate violent or bad behavior. It cannot be equated with other modes of communication. Censorship by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary.

As a stable democracy with strong protections for press freedom, India’s experiments with Internet filtering have been brought into the fold of public discourse. The selective censorship of Web sites and blogs since 2003, made even more disjointed by the non-uniform responses of Internet service providers (ISPs), has inspired a clamor of opposition. Clearly government regulation and implementation of filtering are still evolving. Amidst widespread speculation in the media and blogosphere about the state of filtering in India, the sites actually blocked indicate that while the filtering system in place yields inconsistent results, it nevertheless continues to be aligned with and driven by government efforts. Government attempts at filtering have not been entirely effective, as blocked content has quickly migrated to other Web sites and users have found ways to circumvent filtering. The government has also been criticized for a poor understanding of the technical feasibility of censorship and for haphazardly choosing which Web sites to block. The amended IT Act, absolving intermediaries from being responsible for third-party created content, could signal stronger government monitoring in the future. A complex aspect of the censorship issue that has recently arisen is online education. Because of the changing ways in which material and information is presented through online technologies, a much more critical eye must be used in judging the quality of ideas communicated. In addition to online education causing schools in America to reevaluate their definitions of censorship, the Internet and online education has also forced many other countries to do the same. The governments in countries like Turkey and China have passed new laws to deal with online content, unilaterally blocked access to sites they deem inappropriate, and harassed citizens who challenge the status quo.

One aspect of censorship is what’s called a gagging order. A gagging order is defined as a legal order by court or government restricting information or comment being made in public or passed onto any unauthorized person. They may be used to keep secrets of a company, or keep someone’s identity safe. It is difficult to say whether gagging orders are beneficial or not, as there are two reasonable arguments both for and against Though I think it is the business of the police to sort criminals out if they reoffend or if they have the potential to reoffend, it is not the public business.

Censorship can mostly be argued as a good idea in the case of children. Warnings and age ratings on films and games are beneficial as it shows perfectly what is suitable for their child’s age and what the game contains. Some content may not be suitable for a child, such as violence and sexual content. This is because they are argued to be more impressionable than adults. The Hypodermic Needle Theory backup this idea This theory suggests that people win copy the films, games and other forms of media they are exposed to. In 1938, a broadcast of The War of the Worlds sent out widespread across America. It was assumed that this was proof of the Hypodermic Needle Theory, although Paul Lazarsfeld and Herta Herzog led research on the matter and discovered that the panic was not based on the media drilling ideas into their heads but the attitudes among them. The Hypodermic Needle Theory is now considered obsolete. Beyond the age of 18, most of the films are available for the public to watch, depending on whether it is legal or not. The government needs to approve a film for it to be made available to the public Films such as The Human Centipede 2, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Reservoir Dogs have either been banned or highly censored to abide by government standards. I think that films that show graphic content of murder, torture, rape, pedophilia or incest in a glorified light should be banned as I think the content could be considered offensive to victims of these crimes. Though I think that some films with graphic content that reflects true life should not be censored, as I don’t think we should be hiding people from the reality of others’ lives. I think that our government’s standards of what is appropriate are slightly warped.

However, there are times when censorship is good.  I would not want to thrust ideas upon people if they are too immature to handle them.  It is one thing for students to go to a library, pick out a book, and read it on their own.  It is quite another to have a teacher in the front of the classroom force children to read things that they may not be ready to explore.  If teachers want to teach books that may be controversial they will want to be ready with arguments to back up why they are teaching a book like that. So, overall I feel that censorship has gone too far in that it affects everything from standardized tests, to documentaries, and even films and press.  However, if there were no rules at all then teachers/people would be able to get away with whatever they wanted and I think that in the end many students could be harmed by certain information if they are not ready to deal with the issues presented.