Censorship or censure to curb creative expression?

IT WAS ONLY recently that the issue of data privacy reached a feverish pitch following a face-off between the social media giant, Twitter and the government with the former calling the new guidelines an attempt to “inhibit free, open conversation”.

The new rules force the social media companies to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it. The Centre says that the right to free speech “cannot be unfettered and the legal system undermined”.

The tiff reached a flashpoint when Union Minister for Information Technology alleged that Twitter denied him access to his account for almost an hour over complaints that he violated copyright law that later emerged to have stemmed from a claim by a music label on ground that “there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed access to the account”.

It was during the ongoing spat that the Centre came out with a Bill that is fraught with serious ramifications, but went almost unnoticed in the din with social media companies.

The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 can lead to intervention because of the proposal to recall or reverse the certification of a film.  This tantamount to “super censorship” and a check on creative freedom because even after getting a certificate from Central Board of Film Certification, the government can call back or reverse the CBFC certification.

The move becomes suspect in view of the government abolishing the appellate body, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). The Tribunal, a statutory body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was abolished through the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions Of Service) Ordinance, 2021, which came into effect on April 4.

The Bill proposes to empower the government to order recertification of an already certified film following the receipt of viewer complaints which seems nothing short of censorship going beyond the Central Board for Film Certification.

The government justified the move in a note that said, “sometimes complaints are received against a film that allude to violation of Section 5B(1) of the Cinematograph Act after a film is certified”.

The question is, should the government act as a super censor over the censoring body by forcing cuts or even reversing or recalling the certification given by the censoring body after a film is  vetted and is cleared for exhibition.

The Ministry through a notification has asked the general public to send comments on the draft bill by July 2 “to make the process of sanctioning of films for exhibition more effective, in tune with the changed times and curb the menace of piracy”. One can only hope that seeking feedback is not only a cosmetic exercise and only move forward to the future and not back to the times of censorship!