Shri Padmashri Prakash Singh,
This complaint dated 20.10.2004 has been filed by Padmashri Shri Prakash Singh, former Director General, BSF, presently President of Jan Hitai, an NGO of Noida against “The Hindustan Times” regarding publication of objectionable advertisements in advertisements columns. The complainant has stated that the advertisements are ostensibly of massage parlours but it is well known and Delhi Police confirms it-that, these are all dens of prostitution. Delhi Police has been systematically carrying out raids at these massage parlours and they confirm that massage is the cover for physical contact leading to the most intimate union. The advertisements are quite provocative and amount to open and public solicitation. These also attract the mischief of Section 292 IPC, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 and the Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956. According to the complainant, the publication of the impugned advertisements are motivated and are likely to have adverse and harmful effects on the morals of the people and the health of the societies.
The complainant informed the Council that he sent two letters on dated 16.7.2004 which was actually addressed to the Chairperson, National Commission for Women and the other dated 22.9.2004 to the respondent-editor but there was no response. The complainant requested the Council to take necessary action against the respondent.
No written statement
A show-cause notice was issued to the respondent editor on 3.1.2005 on two counts (i) for the present complaint; and (ii) for repeated publication of such advertisements of health/physical fitness despite assurance given in a suo-motu enquiry as recorded in the adjudication rendered on 22.9.2004. Respondent did not file written statement.
Appearance before the Inquiry Committee
The matter was taken up for hearing by the Inquiry Committee at New Delhi on 28.4.2005. The complainant appeared in person while Shri Gaurav Agrawal, advocate appeared on behalf of the respondent, The Hindustan Times.
Proceedings before the Inquiry Committee
The complainant, reiterating the averments made in the complaint, contended that the Hindustan Times was one of the leading newspapers of India. It was for them to set the standards by internal restraint. He was of the view that there should be ban on such advertisements Commercial considerations led the newspapers to betray the public’s trust and to repeatedly violate the guidelines, advice and instructions of the Press Council. The National Commission for Women had also written to the newspapers to restrain themselves from publishing obscene and suggestive advertisements.
Learned counsel for the Hindustan Times argued that the question for consideration was whether the massage advertisements should be banned totally. The Indian medicine system had a special place for massage system in treatment of diseases. Though some unscrupulous groups had entered the field, the genuine people could not be penalized for it. Therefore, alive to their social responsibility, since November 2002, the Hindustan Times have formed a team of six lawyers to go through the language of such advertisements. They had stopped accepting advertisement suggestive of soliciting. He, however, expressed regrets over the impugned publications that were indeed indicative of soliciting and assured the Committee that they would be more careful in future in publishing such advertisements.
Recommendations of the Inquiry Committee
The Committee considered the record and the oral arguments put forth by the parties. The Committee perused several advertisements before it that carried photographs of women and men accompanied by texts like ‘broadminded/educated/beautiful/foreigner etc. It failed to appreciate their relevance to massage services as a fitness therapy and felt that the panel referred to be the lawyer of the respondent could not possibly have recommended their acceptance after scrutiny. The Committee felt that the respondent paper has been unable to abide by the assurance given on an earlier occasion. The Committee also noted that the High Court of Judicature at Bombay was also seized of the similar issue and in fact the Division Bench headed by the Chief Justice of the High Court, vide orders dated 8.12.2004 in Writ Petition No. 1232 of 2004 had expressly directed as follows:
(i) Newspapers and periodicals are restrained from publishing any advertisement which amount to invitation to prostitution;
(ii) Newspapers and periodicals are restrained from publishing any advertisement which have sexual overtones;
(iii) Newspapers and periodicals are restrained from publishing any advertisement which would violate Section 3 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 and other provisions of different Act.”
The Committee was not satisfied that the orders of the Hon’ble High Court were being followed. It expressed its deep unhappiness and concern over the failure of the press to self-regulate the discharge of its responsibility towards the society. However, keeping in mind the assurance now held out by the learned counsel for the Hindustan Times that such advertisements, which contained undignified language, would not be published in future, the Committee recommended to the Council to take the assurance on record and direct the Hindustan Times to ensure that the undertaking is not violated.
Decision of the Council
The Press Council, on consideration of the records of the case and report of the Inquiry Committee accepts the reasons, findings and the recommendation of the Committee and decides accordingly.