THE CONTROVERSY AROUND THE CINEMATOGRAPH (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2021: AN ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

Recently, the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was introduced to make certain amendments in the Cinematograph Act of 1952, was released for public comments. The provision in the amendment that caught the eyes of many, was the one that aimed at granting the revisionary powers to the Centre. This also included the power to order for the re-examination of films that were already certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This was widely criticised by the filmmakers and the concerned parties as it was adding another layer of censorship.

WHAT IS THE CINEMATOGRAPH (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2021?

The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 is majorly directed to implement 3 provisions:

  1. Revisionary powers of central government;
  2. Age-based restrictions; and
  3. Measures to curb piracy.
REVISIONARY POWERS OF CENTRAL GOVERNMENT

This provision of the bill attracted the most criticism as it is adding one more layer of censorship for the certification of films. Through this provision, the Central government receives the power to ask the CBFC to re-examine the film which it has already certified.

Whenever there would be a breach of Section 5B (1), this power can be used and the Central government can thus, reverse the certification of the board. Currently, the Centre cannot use the revisionary powers as the Supreme Court, in November 2020, upheld a decision of the Karnataka High Court which prevents the Centre to use these revisionary powers on a film which is already been certified by the certification board. The amendment in the bill makes some changes regarding this. It proposes the addition of a proviso to sub-section (1) of Section 6 and according to it, the Central government, if it deems necessary, can ask the chairman of the CBFC to examine the film again.[1]

As per the bill, the amendment is in line with the reasonable restrictions provided in Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.  It says that a film can be stopped from public exhibition if it is against the national interest, poses threat to national security or relations with a foreign state, or falls under any other category of reasonable restrictions.

CBFC is a statutory body and is under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It is a body that controls the public exhibition of films in India and films have to be necessarily certified by the board to be publicly exhibited.

AGE-BASED RESTRICTIONS 

The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 proposes to further classify films into age-based categories. Currently, the films get certification based on 4 categories – ‘U’ – for unrestricted public exhibition, ‘U/A’ – it requires the guidance of parents for children under the age of 12, ‘A’ – restricted to adults, and ‘S’ – restricted towards a class or profession. The 3 categories proposed under the bill are:

  • U/A 7+
  • U/A 13+
  • U/A 16+

This age-based categorisation of films is in line with the New IT rules.

MEASURES TO CURB PIRACY

Piracy is the unauthorized use of someone else’ work. At present, there are no laws that deal with piracy and the bill proposes the addition of Section 6AA to restrict piracy. The bill states that any person who transmits or attempts to transmit the film or any part of it without the permission of the author will be punished with imprisonment of 3 months which can be extended up to 3 years and a fine of no less than Rs 3 lakh which can be extended up to 5 per cent of the audited gross production cost of the film or with both of them.[2] The main motive behind the addition of this section is to prevent the recording of audio or visuals without the author’s permission which leads to piracy.

CRITICISM

When the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was released for public comments, it got subject to immense criticism. Many people, mostly the filmmakers and people related to the entertainment industry, pointed out the various shortcomings of the bill which can have a huge impact on the film industry. This criticism was majorly pointed towards the revisionary powers of the Centre which allowed them to direct the board to re-examine the films which are already been certified by it.

The Centre states that this is in line with the reasonable restrictions provided in the Constitution and they can direct the chairman of the board to re-examine the film if it is against the national interest or against the security of the state, public order or falls under any other category of reasonable restrictions. The filmmakers argued that this provision gives power to the Centre to overrule the decision of the CBFC and it may also lead to the prevention of many films from getting screened on the public exhibition without any proper or valid reasons.

Many-a-times, it is seen that an individual is offended by a film or any part of it after the certification but before its public exhibition. This can lead to the restriction of public exhibition of such film and it can result in huge losses to filmmakers.

Also, the move was made shortly after the abolition of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). This was widely criticised as it was an appellate body where a person, aggrieved from the CBFC, could appeal but, after its abolition, if a person gets aggrieved from the board, the only place where he can appeal is courts and this could be a very time-taking process.

The stakeholders who are against this proposed bill also argued that some new and innovative measures needed to be taken to stop the menace of piracy and these punishments for piracy may not work well if the offenders find some loopholes in it to escape the liability. The stakeholders from the industry showed their worries about the amendment bill and especially about the addition of one more layer of censorship. The reasons for the films to be re-examined on order from the Central government are quite subjective and are open to multiple interpretations. This can create a state of ambiguity among both the board and the filmmakers about the rules. And, this confusion can further lead to hindrance in the process of filmmaking and can impact the making of the film as well.

CONCLUSION

The proposed draft bill which aimed to bring amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952 has attracted plenty of criticism. The stakeholders from the entertainment industry are concerned about the additional layer of censorship which the films would have to go through. Even after getting the certification by the board, films can be stopped from a public exhibition, which becomes a matter of concern for the filmmakers. They argue that the rules must be made clear and non-ambiguous so that they keep them in mind and create content accordingly. And, the reasons for which the film is directed to get re-examined by the board must be made transparent too. Also, the role of the CBFC shall be clarified and it must prevail as a body that permits public exhibition of films and not just as a censoring body. There shall be an open space where both the stakeholders – the Centre and the Entertainment Industry initiate talks and discuss the provisions of the bill that can make an adverse impact on the films and the film industry as a whole.

Author(s) Name: Dhruv Soni (Symbiosis Law School, Noida)

References:

[1] S.R. Praveen, ‘Filmmakers see a ‘super censor’ in Cinematograph Amendment Bill’ (The Hindu, 20 June 2021) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/filmmakers-see-a-super-censor-in-cinematograph-amendment-bill/article34865225.ece accessed 4 December 2021

[2] Ektaa Malik, ‘Explained: What govt proposes to change in film certification’ (Indian Express, 22 June 2021) https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/what-govt-proposes-to-change-in-film-certification-censor-board-7369582/ accessed 4 December 2021

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