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Health groups have said that the government order asking television channels not to air condom advertisement between 6 am and 10 pm would undo decades of progress on sexual and reproductive health. The Population Foundation of India (PFI) suggested that like in the film industry, advertisements can be graded by content and accordingly slotted for telecast instead of removing all advertisements. “While the Health Ministry is trying to push contraceptive use with specific focus on spacing methods for family planning, the advisory by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) is poised to undo decades of progress on sexual and reproductive health,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director, PFI. The I&B ministry on December 11 issued an advisory to all television channels, asking them to restrict condom advertisement to late night between 10 pm and 6 am. Muttreja said although only 5.6 per cent of men use condoms, they are one of the earliest and safest contraceptives that not only act as a spacing method, but also a barrier against HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases and infections. Condoms also encourage men to take responsibility in family planning, she added. Muttreja said the I&B ministry restriction is based on the need to protect children from “vulgar” content and prevent them from developing an interest in “unhealthy practices”. “Children today have access to various channels of media and information with a lot of content that we have no control over. What we need is a more sensitive approach without compromising on information and advocating for sexual and reproductive choice,” she said. If advertisements are a way to create demand for safe sex and family planning, then there is also a need to ensure that that demand is not stifled by restrictions, she said. Other health groups said that they are trying to bring together NGOs working in the field and are trying to meet health ministry officials to discuss the issue. V Sam Prasad, country programme director, AIDS Healthcare Foundation said that at a time when they are trying to popularise condom use, having a blanket ban has “no point”. “It took around 20 years to gain momentum on the issue.
We should openly talk about it. It is childish to have a blanket ban. A blanket ban should not be there. We are trying to talk to all the NGOs working in this field and get them together and trying to hold a meeting with the health ministry regarding the issue,” he said.