Detailed analysis and comments on the report of Sri Mukul Mudgal
The high level committee headed by Justice (Retd.) Sri Mukul Mudgal for revision of Cinema Law submitted their report recently to Central Government along with a draft Cinematograph Bill, 2013. The report of the Committee was made available on Ministry’s website after about a month's delay, but the annexures of the report were not uploaded till date. Calling it as regressive, the ‘MediaWatch-India’ (MWI) has submitted detailed analysis and comments on the report to the Ministry of I&B and has demanded for a thorough revamping of the draft Bill by wider public consultation and informed debate on the law governing film censorship.
Key observations by 'MediaWatch-India':
1. The Committee had offered surprisingly little in original thought and research into the highly important and much-delayed reform of cinematograph law. Many of the 'new' provisions in the draft Cinematograph Bill are indeed 'cut-paste' versions from the existing Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983.
2. While there is hardly any change in the Cinema law since British times to present day, the Report neither discussed anything from the reports by earlier inquiry committees on film censorship (Rangachariar Committee (1927-28), Khosla Committee (1969)) nor drew lessons from the international experience and global best practices on film content regulation.
3. The Report completely missed out in reflecting audience’ perspective who are the ultimate consumers of film entertainment. The whole tone of the report is as if there are only two stakeholders in the entire scheme of cinematograph law viz., Central Government and the Film Industry.
4. Quite dismayingly, the report sought to perpetuate the stranglehold of central government on almost every aspect of film censorship. In this regard, the Khosla Committee report on Film Censorship (1969) sounds much progressive and modern which sought to give autonomy to CBFC. The report won the accolades of the Supreme Court but was completely ignored by the successive governments.
5. Though the committee specified some ‘fields’ such as art, cinema, drama, law etc., it favoured continuation of the present system of ‘organized patronage’ wherein the Central Government has unfettered discretion in handpicking its favourites who are supposed to be “qualified to judge the effect of films on the public.”
6. The Committee recommended for retention of the notorious ‘revisional’ powers of the central government over the decisions of CBFC which in fact runs counter to the view of Supreme Court in K.A Abbas vs.Union of India.
7. The remedy suggested by the committee to pre-empt ‘arbitrary’ bans on films by State Governments (e.g., Viswaroopam) is worse than the disease itself. It proposed to confer the power of suspending exhibition of films on Central Government! This bizarre provision tramples upon the powers of state governments and may not even stand legal scrutiny. More importantly, it ignores the presence of the specialized tribunal (FCAT) and subjects such sensitive decision of suspending certified films to the whims and fancies of the executive, by adding one more layer of central government.
8. While the Committee also noted that the present film certification guidelines ‘are incapable of objective application’, it didn’t make any concrete suggestions to make them specific, less subjective and to modify them based on international best practices.
9. The Report didn’t dwell on the all-important and immediate need to evolve separate certification norms and ratings for films meant for home video & television.
10. Despite acknowledging the menace of the objectionable film publicity material, the committee simply endorsed the present farcical regime of industry-sponsored ‘self-regulation’ (in the form of publicity screening committees under films chambers of commerce.)
11. The important aspect of information dissemination about film ratings (‘A’, ‘UA’ etc.) among audience didn’t receive sufficient attention by the committee. While the Report made a welcome recommendation for colour scheme for display of different certifications, it had not even talked about the need for the contents of the certificate to be in respective language of the film.
12. The expert committee nevertheless made commendable suggestions to expand the scope and definitions of several terms such as ‘cinematograph’, ‘film’, ‘advertising material’, ‘exhibition’ etc. in the light of contemporary technologies and field realities. It recommended for new categories of certifications, viz., ‘12+’ & ‘15+’ in place of existing ‘U/A’ and advocated for ‘pre-screening’ of film lyrics by CBFC. It proposed to make ‘film piracy’, a cognizable and non-bailable offence but the failure to indicate CBFC rating (‘A’, ‘UA’ etc.) on publicity material thereby misleading audience about the ‘nature’ of the film was brought down as simple offense with mere monetary penalties.
More alarming than the regressive scheme mooted by the expert committee is the silence and absence of any kind of analysis or debate on the report. It is high time for the film fraternity, civil society, media scholars, policy analysts and legal pundits take time to analyse the implications of expert committee recommendations which are going to shape the new cinematograph law for the country.
MWI represented that MIB should make genuine attempt at least now to elicit wider public opinion and pro-actively seek feedback from legal experts, policy scholars, film associations etc. on Cinematograph Law so as to make it truly modern and in line with global best practices. It said that even in this 100th year of Indian Cinema, if the government doesn’t care to make serious effort to modernise the outdated film censorship law, it will be a historical blunder and an insult to the art of cinema.
Edara Gopi Chand,