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Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 18:36 UK

Tell-all TV riles India's politicians

The host of the Sach Ka Saamna TV show sits on a high stool (left), opposite a lady participant
India is debating whether the new TV show threatens the country's moral values

By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Have you ever had an affair with a married man? Have you ever enjoyed watching a male stripper take off his clothes at a party? Have you ever had surgery to physically enhance your appearance?

These are just some of the questions on a popular TV talk show that have raised the hackles of politicians in India.

They have held animated debates in parliament, arguing whether the Indian version of the hit American show Moment of Truth threatens India's "moral and cultural values".

The show, called Sach Ka Saamna (Face the Truth), was first aired two weeks ago, and is already one of the most-watched programmes on Indian television.

Some say it is possibly the most-watched show in the crowded market of reality TV.

Promotion graphics for the TV programme, showing the presenter holding a flame in his palm
The programme has been debated several times in the Indian parliament

But many of India's politicians are much less enamoured with the show, which goads the participants to answer uncomfortably personal and sometimes embarrassing questions, in return for prize money.

The idea of discussing intimate personal details in public is completely new to Indians. Little surprise then, that the show has become a huge talking point.

Over the last few days, the issue has consistently come up for debate in the national parliament.

The MPs said those taking part in the show were being asked "obscene questions" about their personal lives in front of their families.

Statutory warning

The former deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, Najma Heptullah, told the BBC that the series must be taken off air at once.

"What purpose are we serving with this programme?" she asks.

"If someone has cheated on his wife, why doesn't he go and tell his wife? Why does he need to do that in public?

"If a girl decides to become pregnant as a minor, it is her problem! Why should that be said in public?"

I would just like to say that not everyone has the courage to come and face the truth in front of the world, even if the lure is money or publicity
Show host Rajeev Khandelwal

Those supporting the show, which is broadcast at 2230 on the Star Plus channel, argue that it is on air well past primetime, and carries a statutory warning. The viewers, they say, can always simply turn it off.

But politicians like Mrs Heptullah argue there is no escaping it.

"Blaring promotions for the programme are run across various channels throughout the day and night," she says.

Mrs Heptullah is convinced the show is all about making big money and boosting television ratings.

'Voyeuristic'

The host of the show, Rajeev Khandelwal, disagrees. On his blog he writes: "I would just like to say that not everyone has the courage to come and face the truth in front of the world, even if the lure is money or publicity.

I think the series should be stopped, because it talks about people's private and personal lives too much
Jyotsna Chowdhary

"To reveal the truth about one's personal life is not easy. It hurts when people debate about the questions in the show related to their sexual lives, and ignore all the other questions which revolve around more sensitive aspects of one's life.

"Are people voyeuristic or the contestants brazen? I leave it on your sensible minds to ponder over it."

Mr Khandelwal says the contestants who have spoken about their relationships on the programme have told him that their relationships have deepened and become more meaningful.

'Ban it'

But opinions on Delhi's streets about whether to ban the programme are divided.

"If somebody wants to speak out, and the public gets to know about it, what is wrong with that?" says a banker, Sahil.

"I think the series should be stopped, because it talks about people's private and personal lives too much," a young student, Jyotsna Chowdhary, told the BBC.

Meanwhile, the government has sought an explanation from the television channel broadcasting the reality show.

The opposition has called for stronger regulation of broadcasters.

The controversy has sparked a new debate about government intervention in the media.

Ambika Soni, visiting an exhibition in September 2007
Ambika Soni wants to ensure that traditional values are not eroded

All Indian TV channels are bound by a programming and advertising code, which analysts say is open to both harsh and lenient interpretations.

The federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Ambika Soni, told parliament: "I am a woman, a mother and a grandmother, and I am concerned about the issues, as all members are, and to see that the values we grew up with do not get eroded".

But she added that there was strong sensitivity in the media against government control, and the government was evolving a consensus that could lead to the formation of an independent regulator.

Censorship fears

There are many in the media, as well ordinary people, who say the MPs need to focus more on the pressing issues of the country's social and economic development, rather dwelling so much on the morality of TV shows.

Meanwhile, many experts say any move to gag the media must be resisted, even though there may be a need to take a look at TV shows that are beginning to test the boundaries of good taste.

Analyst Shailaja Bajpai wrote in the Indian Express newspaper: "No-one was in the least bit surprised when MPs raised questions about Sach Ka Saamna.

"The fact that the furore has given the show more free publicity than it could have paid for (or deserved), is the only tangible result they have to show for their questions.

"Will our dreams and innermost desires, which we may or may not act upon, be censored too?"



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