New Delhi: The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has sought public comments on its new Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
The proposed legislation makes changes to the archaic Cinematograph Act, 1952, which guides the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) — known in common parlance as the ‘Censor Board’.
The major amendments include giving the central government the powers to seek re-examination of a film, subdivision of the existing unrestricted public exhibition (UA) category into age-based categories, prohibition of unauthorised recording, and listing penalties against offenders in a bid to curb the menace of piracy.
The draft comes just weeks after the Narendra Modi government abolished the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which was the appellate body for filmmakers to challenge their films’ certification.
After decades of debate on the issue of certification, and public rows over dozens of films, the move comes at a time when there are questions over the certification body itself, with streaming platforms coming in and making the process redundant.
ThePrint breaks down what the new provisions are, and how they will impact the certification process.
The Cinematograph Act, 1952
The Cinematograph Act is the sole legislation guiding the certification of films released in India for public exhibition. It regulates the Mumbai-headquartered CBFC, which is mandated with certifying every film released in Indian theatres.
Over 1,000 films apply for certification every year.
In 2013, an expert committee under Justice Mukul Mudgal was constituted to examine the certification issues under the Cinematograph Act. Another panel was set up under filmmaker Shyam Benegal in 2016 to evolve broad guidelines for certification within the Act’s ambit.
Both the panels had submitted their recommendations — seeking age-based certification and limiting the powers of the CBFC — but the reports were put into cold storage.
In 2019, the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha, where it was proposed to insert a new Section 6AA, and a new sub-section (1A) in Section 7 of the Act, both aimed at tackling piracy.
Subsequently, the ministry examined a report presented by the Standing Committee on Information Technology in Lok Sabha in 2020. The latest draft bill stems from that.
Reintroduction of ‘re-examination powers’
The new bill proposes to empower the Centre to order “re-examination” of an already certified film by bringing back its revisionary powers, if complaints are received against a film over violations of Section 5B(1) of the Cinematograph Act.
Section 5B(1) is derived from Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which imposes reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of any offence.
The reintroduction of this control comes over two decades after the Supreme Court upheld a Karnataka High Court verdict in November 2000, striking down the Centre’s “revisional powers” for films that were already certified by the CBFC.
According to the I&B ministry, however, the Supreme Court had opined that the legislature may, in certain cases, overrule or nullify the judicial or executive decision by enacting an appropriate legislation.
The draft bill also changes the provisions relating to certification of films under UA category by subdividing it into age-based categories like U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+.
It also proposes to insert Section 6AA, which states that without the written authorisation of the author, no person shall be permitted to use any audio-visual recording device in a place to knowingly make or transmit or abet the making or transmission of a copy of a film or a part thereof.
Further, it introduces provisions penalising those involved in film piracy, stating the offender would be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall “not be less than three months but which may extend to three years and with a fine which shall not be less than Rs 3 lakh, but which may extend to 5 per cent of the audited gross production cost, or with both”.
What industry veterans say on the bill
The proposed provisions in the draft bill have elicited a strong reaction from the Indian film industry, particularly on the clause granting revisionary powers to the government.
Filmmaker Rakesh Sharma told ThePrint that it is important not to look at the amendments in isolation.
“First, the FCAT was done away with and then there is this amendment to override a constitutional body like CBFC and have a government stranglehold over content, to exercise iron control… being able to act as a super censor,” he said.
Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who led the 2016 panel, said the CBFC is a body set up by the government and comprises people who the government considers to be responsible and as having some standing in society.
“So if there is a CBFC, why do you need anything over and above CBFC to evaluate a film?” he asked.
Sources in the government said the draft bill, once implemented, will prove to be a major deterrent to piracy of films.
According to a FICCI-EY report in March, the Indian media and entertainment sector is expected to reach Rs 2.23 trillion by 2023. A 2018 Mint report quoted Irdeto, a global solutions provider in digital platform security and media and entertainment, to say that piracy leads to a loss of $2.8 billion (around Rs 20,000 crore) of the annual industry revenue.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)