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Cinematograph Amendment Bill 2021 by I&B Ministry & its impact on artistic freedom?

Cinematograph Amendment Bill 2021 by I&B Ministry & its impact on artistic freedom?

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  • GS 2 || Polity || Constitutional Framework || Fundamental Rights

Why in the news?

  • The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 proposes to amend the Cinematograph Act of 1952 with provisions that will give the Centre “revisionary powers” and enable it to “re-examine” films already cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
  • The recommendations of the Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee of 2013 and the Shyam Benegal Committee of 2016 had also been considered while drafting the legislation.

Key provisions of the new draft

  • Revision of certification
    • This will equip the Centre with revisionary powers on account of violation of Section 5B(1) (principles for guidance in certifying films).
    • The current Act, in Section 6, already equips the Centre to call for records of proceedings in relation to a film’s certification.
    • The Ministry of I&B explained that the proposed revision “means that the Central Government, if the situation so warranted, has the power to reverse the decision of the Board”.
    • SC and Karnataka HC Judgements
      • Currently, because of a judgment by the Karnataka High Court, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in November 2020, the Centre cannot use its revisionary powers on films that have already been granted a certificate by the CBFC.
    • Age-based certification
      • The draft proposes to introduce age-based categorisation and classification.
      • Currently, films are certified into three categories
        • ‘U’ for unrestricted public exhibition; 
        • ‘U/A’ that requires parental guidance for children under 12;  
        • ‘A’ for adult films. 
      • The new draft proposes to divide the categories into further age-based groups
        • U/A 7+
        • U/A 13+
        • U/A 16+.
      • This proposed age classification for films echoes the new IT rules for streaming platforms.
    • Provision against piracy
      • At present, there are no enabling provisions to check film piracy in the Cinematograph Act, 1952. 
      • Violation shall be punishable with imprisonment and a fine.
      • The draft proposes to add Section 6AA that will prohibit unauthorized recording.
      • The proposed section states, no person shall, without the written authorization of the author, be permitted to make an audio-visual recording device.
      • Violation shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than three months and may extend to three years and with a fine which shall not be less than Rs 3 lakh which may extend to 5 percent of the audited gross production cost or with both.
    • Eternal certificate
      • It proposes to certify films for perpetuity.
      • Currently, a certificate issued by the CBFC is valid only for 10 years.

Concerns associated with the draft

  • Super censor- The draft has been criticised by filmmakers as a “super censor”. 
    • The draft comes shortly after the abolition of the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal. Earlier it was the last point of appeal for filmmakers against the certificate granted to their film.
  • May curtail freedom of speech and expression
    • Government can decide whether a film should go forward or not, which is unheard of.
    • In recent years, it has been seen as an indirect attempt at controlling filmmaking in terms of how people, specific films or series are targeted, and this seems like an endorsement of that behaviour.
  • Undermining the sovereignty of the censor board
    • Filmmakers have alleged that the proposed Amendment undermines the sovereignty of the Censor Board as it will effectively give the Central Government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent.
  • Against the orders of SC
    • This provision also contradicts the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government has no right to demand censorship after the Board has certified a film, rendering the Centre powerless.
  • Random objections may pop up
    • Various groups or individuals frequently object to a film just before its release, but after it has been certified.
    • If the proposed new rules are implemented, films may be held up for longer for re-certification based on random objections, even if they are already certified by the CBFC.
  • It may end up limiting the creativity of artists.
  • Loss to the Industry- In absence of demand driver domestic content, the audience would just seek content from outside the country.

Governments stand

  • The Centre is also tightening rules to control digital platforms and media. It introduced new digital media rules in February 2021 to bring these platforms under its supervision for the first time.
  • Article 19(2) of the Constitution empowers the government to impose reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression by law in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, or morality, or relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an act of terrorism.
  • The Cinematograph Act of 1952 contains similar provisions, as stated in Article 19 (2).

Way forward

  • The roots of “censorship” of cinema in India are colonial, as the British believed that natives had to be protected from the destabilising influence of the mass medium. The infantilising of citizens and the trust in a moral censoriousness continued well after Independence, though over the years the scales have tilted.
  • In recent years, several films, from Padmavat to Udta Punjab, have been held hostage to the “offended honour” of communities and clans.
    • While governments have caved into mobs willing to use violence to wrest victory in these culture wars, the courts have stepped in to protect the filmmaker’s right to freedom of expression.
  • Committees headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal and Shyam Benegal have recommended moving to a regime of no-snips-and-cuts. The film fraternity’s concerns that the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 undoes those gains must be addressed and redressed.

References