Safe sex is not a classroom or family discussion in India and successive governments have done little to propagate it at a policy level. The information and Broadcasting Ministry has now issued a blanket ban on condom advertisements from 6 am to 10 pm on television (TV). The directive, triggered by an outdoor advertising campaign by Manforce, says the ads are indecent and can create "unhealthy practices" among children. Mogae Media President Sandeep Goyal tells Veer Arjun Singh that the ban is unproductive, ineffective and only a symbolic move to please the old Indian sensibilities. What is your stand on the regulation of condom ads on TV? I think the ban is out of sync with the reality of the times. Why target only TV? The target audience you are trying to cocoon is actually on media other than TV. The ban is, therefore, more symbolic than real. The advertising industry is largely self-regulated. Is the government's interference unnecessary? The advertising industry has always claimed self-regulation. In reality, this has played out under different surrogates, and agencies have only tried to aid and abet what their clients have wanted to sell. In extreme cases like tobacco, the government had no choice but to interfere and regulate. Is it the subject or the content of a particular advertisement that made the government take this step? There is always a trigger. In this case, it was Manforce. Do condom manufacturers pay higher than other products for featuring their ads on TV? What's going to be the financial impact of such a move? No, I don't think condoms have been a negative category product that is more expensive to advertise. Also, the category is tiny, therefore, the financial impact on television companies will be negligible. Is the government not bothered about children using the internet? Or could the web be regulated, too? This is precisely what I mean. Use of internet is near universal in the age group the government is trying to protect. Parental guidance or control on the use of internet is minimal. Youngsters have uninhibited access to porn and sexual content.
This ban, therefore, is just playing to the gallery.Has there been a precedent of such moral regulation by governments? I doubt it has happened before. Would you say talking about sex is still a taboo in the average Indian family? Yes, it is. This is a problem to be addressed at the social, societal and sociological level. Advertising is a mere by-product. Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) reached out to the government for regulation? Was it because talks to change the content of a certain ad within the fraternity didn't go through? I think ASCI is just a feel-good body. I was on the board many years ago. It is largely toothless. Look at the impunity with which liquor advertising is done. All norms are flouted. No real surrogates exist. International brands continue to exploit the lacunae and ASCI is just looking the other way. Would you say the government's safe sex awareness campaigns are inconsistent and ineffective? Yes, completely. They are of no use. They lack imagination. They fail in execution. The government really has no role in this, but insists on playing moral cop and this helps no one. Did Manforce toe the line with their outdoor advertising campaign during Navratra, which were forced to be taken down? I think Manforce and the publicity around the episode triggered governmental action. If families don't talk about it, schools don't teach about it, and looks like that won't change for a while, so how are children, especially teenagers, supposed to learn about safe sex? This is absolutely the responsibility of the government.