'Vulgar' Comedy Central taken off air in India and fined $420 for simulated sex scenes

New Delhi (AFP) - Entertainment channel Comedy Central was taken off air in India for six days on Wednesday after a court upheld a ruling by government regulators who took offence to simulated sex scenes and "vulgar" language.

The order that came into effect from midnight resulted from a court battle between the government and media company Viacom 18, which launched the 24-hour English language channel in India in January 2012.

Two of the channel's shows - Stand Up Club and Popcorn - came under the scrutiny of India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting last year for showing content that was considered indecent.

The scenes "depicted women as a commodity of sex" and posed a threat to "public morality or morals", according to a notice issued to the broadcaster at the time.

The government found scenes in Popcorn, including one that showed someone simulating sex with a dummy, "to be vulgar, obscene, offending good taste and not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition and children", the court said.

Although the channel was shut down for four days last year, it was allowed to recommence broadcasts pending an appeal against the ban that was finally heard on Monday at the Delhi High Court.

The judges ruled the government acted lawfully in ordering the suspension, and the channel must therefore go off air for the remaining six days of the original ban. It was also told to pay a 20,000 rupees (S$420) fine.

The temporary ban has turned the spotlight on some of the rules and regulations for satellite broadcasters that experts say are in breach of constitutional provisions on freedom of expression.

"The content code as it stands requires that cable television channels can't carry various kinds of content including criticism of friendly countries or anything that offends good taste or decency," said Chinmayi Arun of the National Law University's Centre of Communication Governance.

"These restrictions are well beyond what is permitted by the Indian constitution," the Delhi-based researcher added.

Apar Gupta, a lawyer with the Delhi High Court, said the regulations governing television content were also loosely structured and their implementation dependent on cultural sensibilities.

"Indian soaps showing women in servitude will probability not be objected to by the viewers, but the slightest nudity on screen is considered objectionable by families who might be watching television with children," said Gupta.

Disgruntled viewers have let their feelings be known on Twitter, with a number of fans posting screen grabs of the channel's display message: "The Comedy Central Channel is temporarily switched off."

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