Comedy Central India Suspended for Scenes Deemed 'Obscene,' 'Derogatory to Women'

India's Information and Broadcasting Ministry declares episodes of “Stand Up Club” and “Popcorn TV” “indecent,” banning the network for 10 days.

NEW DELHI – Comedy Central has been temporarily suspended for ten days beginning May 25, following a directive by India's Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The ministry objected to an episode of Stand Up Club (telecast last May) and PopCorn TV (telecast last July) on the channel, which is run here by joint venture Viacom18 Media.

Challenging the I&B directive, Viacom18 Media filed a plea in the Delhi High Court, but the court ruled in favor of the ministry, stating in its order that the two episodes of the shows had “obscene dialog and vulgar words derogatory of women and hence appeared to offend good taste and decency. The portrayal in the program did not appear suitable for unrestricted public exhibition and children.” The court also added that a CD recording of the two shows was previewed by an inter-ministerial committee. 

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The court did not describe the offending content in the scenes further. 

The treatment of women in Indian society has become a topic of greater scrutiny in the country since the deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus in Delhi last December. The incident sparked mass protests in the country, along with a period of introspection over the way women are portrayed in Indian media. 

"Considering that the penalty could be the prohibition of telecast up to 30 days for the first violation and up to 90 days in case of the second violation, the [10 day] penalty imposed on the channel cannot be said to be excessive or unreasonable,” added the court order, referring to section 20 of the Cable Television Networks Act of 1995, which states that the government, in the interest of public order, decency or morality, can regulate transmission or retransmission of any program or channel.

When contacted by The Hollywood Reporter, Viacom18 Media declined to comment, only stating that “the matter is sub-judice” (legal speak meaning the case is under trial or currently being considered by a judge).

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In the past, Network18 has also faced objections from the ministry against MTV India. In 2009, the network was given a warning by the I&B Ministry for a violation of programming and advertising codes for an episode of MTV Roadies II, a Survivor-type reality show. The knuckle rap was the third time MTV India faced an objection by the ministry and while it was not temporarily suspended, the network had to run an apology scroll for a week promising “strict compliance of the Programme Code in future.”

In recent months the I&B Ministry has penalized other channels as well, including Indian channels Manoranjan TV and Mahuaa TV for programming violations.