For the next six weeks, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh is likely to spend a considerable amount of time rummaging through pictures on packets of condoms, contraceptives and other sexual wellness products.
On Tuesday, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur sought a report from Singh on whether explicit pictures on condom packs were “actionable” and breached laws against obscenity.
“You tell us whether action can be taken on these ads or not… Take a look at the advertisements available on record and also others and then tell us what is your stand,” the bench told the ASG.
It asked Singh to sift through case files containing “objectionable” pictures on packets of condoms and contraceptives and apprise the court whether the ads complied with advertising norms and the law against obscenity.
“Do you have any plan to regulate such advertisements? Is there a way you can check what is going to be printed on these packets or can you take action only after these packets with pictures are available in the market? You also have to tell us if such advertisements may constitute a penal offence,” the bench told Singh.
The bench was hearing a batch of appeals filed by Hindustan Latex and a few other manufacturers of condoms and contraceptives against a 2008 order of the Madras High Court.
The High Court, while deciding a PIL, had directed condom manufacturers to keep their packaging and ads free of “sexy” pictures on the ground that they were obscene and an affront to Indian culture. It had asked them to obtain permission from Advertising Standards Council of India for condom ads and packaging. In September 2008, the apex court had stayed the High Court order, thereby allowing manufacturers to continue using such pictures.
In February, the bench asked the government and the Central Board of Film Certification to clarify their stand regarding ads on packets of condoms and contraceptives.
On Tuesday, Singh sought to explain to the bench that the Censor Board certifies a film for theatrical exhibition while the ads on cable and private satellite TV channels are obligated to adhere to Advertising Codes under Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The rules, the government’s affidavit said, mandates that no ads shall be permitted if it projects a derogatory image of women or emphasises passive submissive qualities or encourages them to play a subordinate secondary role in the family and society. But for print ads, Singh said, there is “no pre-censorship” by the government and this is in accordance with the policy to uphold the freedom of press. “However, there are other provisions under which we can take action if the advertisements violate any law or regulation,” he said.
It was after this submission by the ASG that the bench observed that since the government admittedly has no pre-censorship, it should now examine these ads and report back on their legality. The bench posted the matter after six weeks.