FREEDOM OF CENSORSHIP: AN INTELLIGENT TRAP BY THE GOVERNMENT By Ajikrishnan from CSI College of Legal Studies
The Lok Sabha elections of 2014 brought with it and strengthened owing to their actions a perception of threat to freedom of expression, freedom of press, interference in academic affairs, treatment of minorities etc. Of these, freedom of speech and expression is an oft-repeated subject of discussion, which has been chosen for a short monograph on account of its overarching importance.
There were a number of calculated attacks on media with a view to weaken it, particularly on NDTV, which dared to perform its democratic responsibilities. The attack by the government using legal machinery upon the said channel and its proprietors was treated as an alarming situation. The function of the media in a democratically demanding, independent and impartial manner does not need elaboration. But if the fence starts eating the crops, what will we do? If the media itself wants to entertain the government, not to air news and views, which are unpalatable to it, then it is sowing the seeds of peril. The actions like directing the TV to go off air for what government alleged to be a breach of the programme code governing content[i], raids in the premises of the founder of the said TV network[ii] etc., were to target the independent stance taken by the channel. Even if the government wishes to get rid of it, citizens of the country need them and such attempts will not take too long for the citizenry to get rid of government.
Another area of governmental interference is that of censorship. The censor board has become an entity to carry out individual interest to pay for political considerations and motives.[iii] By exercising its power in a legally unbecoming way, the board has ordered to remove the use of certain words in films and even denied permission to screen a film in the recent Short Film Festival of Kerala.[iv]
In India, the major laws dealing with certification of films are the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 and the guidelines issued by the Central government in 1991 under the said Act. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) derives its power from the said statute, which authorizes it to certify films under various categories. The categories of certification at present are U, UA, A and S.[v] The broad principles under which the Board works are that it should not unduly curb artistic expression and creative freedom, but also the medium of film should be sensitive to standards and values of society.
However, the question is whether the Board is entitled to order blanket and indiscriminate cut in words like cow, Punjab, Gujarat, Hindu, India etc., as it did with much controversy in recent times?[vi] The point is that, appointees in CBFC are not political nor they have to certify or deny certification on political considerations. At present, actions of CBFC are reflective of politics crept into the body in its statutory functions. Some of the strange orders of CBFC issued in the immediate past speak abundantly of this. The Board ordered around 90 cuts in the film Udta Punjab which was based on the theme of drug activities in the state of Punjab including the name of the State and cities[vii], Lipstick under My Burkha has to appeal to get permission[viii], a documentary on Kejriwal was also troubled in censorship controversy[ix] to mention a few.
On account of the criticism of actions of the Board, a committee was appointed by the government on 1stJanuary, 2016, to look into the working the CBFC and film certification in the country to evolve broad guidelines. The committee headed by eminent film maker Shyam Benegal suggested an array of changes to the current working of the film certification based on the age of audience and content of film and modification in existing guidelines. It recommended a few more categories of certification, informed viewing decision making by audience, the act of certification be responsive to social change, and disapproved of the power of the Board to examine whether the entertainment is ‘clean and healthy’ and of ‘aesthetic value and cinematically of good standard’. But the government is yet to act on the matter.[x]
Even though artistic freedom does enjoy any privilege under the Constitution, it is protected as much as the right of an individual under article 19(1)(a). Decision of a statutory authority to satisfy political interests, and encroaching upon that freedom by censoring instead of certifying films, as observed by Hon’ble High Court of Bombay in the recent case of Udta Punjab, will not cater to the development of art nor will it be conducive for a democratic society or the audience aspiring to watch an art in its pure form. No one has any duty to entertain the ruling regime. Such actions should be firmly opposed and constitutionally dealt with.
[v] S. 5A of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
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