The criticism of Indian reality TV shows that gets stirred up from time to time comes in two flavours:
Vulgar / Obscene content.
Generally this is politicians trying to attract the family values vote, or media outlets trying to drum up controversy by interviewing completely random people.
Here is an example from Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam in TOI:
"The kind of reality TV content that is going on air presently in shows like Rakhi Ka Insaaf, Emotional Attyachar or Bigg Boss 4 is extremely vulgar and below standard. These television channels can go to any extent in the race for TRPs.
I did however stumble across one quote that provides the answer within its complaint. Chandan Dixit, a senior bank executive says:
Today if I watch Bigg Boss with my family and kids, it surely seems vulgar. But if I watch it alone I enjoy it".
In India, the assumption is that all TV content should be suitable for all ages. The privatisation and rapid growth of the TV industry, from a handful of government channels, to 500 channels today, has outpaced regulatory frameworks. There is no rating system for TV. As a result, shows which are trying to deal with more adult content are doing it within the framework of an ‘all ages’ rating, and are therefore called ‘obscene’.
The simple solution is to introduce a range of ratings and broadcast guidelines. Content shown during certain hours – late at night for example – can state upfront that it is intended for adult audiences. When Big Brother screens in Australia, there are primetime shows that are family-friendly, and late night Big Brother Uncut shows that can show more risqué content.
Beyond reality TV, this would also allow for scripted dramas to have the option of being more ‘adult’ in terms of language, violence, or sex.
Giving TV channels the opportunity to self-regulate, as long as they are honest with their viewers about what will be screened, is always preferable to forcing government censorship down people’s throats.
Can producers and anchors can be held responsible for the actions of contestants, or even viewers?
After a reality show participant committed suicide following humiliation from the anchor (Rakhi Sawant), there have been calls for Rakhi’s arrest for abetting the suicide.
Again, this is mostly just political grandstanding. Humiliating someone publicly, especially when they elected to be part of a pretty absurd show, certainly doesn’t make you legally responsible for their actions. Whether Rakhi feels at all responsible is up to her own moral code, and will be illustrated by how she treats future participants on the show.
The bigger question is whether the show’s producers have a responsibility to consider the psychological impact of the show on the participants. I have written about this in more detail here: