Mumbai, Jul 2 (PTI) Six trade film associations on Friday issued a joint representation to the government regarding the proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act, objecting to the revisionary power sought to be provided to the Centre.
On June 18, the Centre had sought public comments on the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 which proposes to penalise film piracy with a jail term and fine, introduce age-based certification, and empower the Central government to order recertification of an already certified film following receipt of complaints.
Several industry veterans, including actors and filmmakers, have called the proposal a 'blow to the film fraternity' as they believe it will potentially endanger freedom of expression and democratic dissent in their letter to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
The six bodies include the Producers Guild of India (PGI), Indian Film and Television Producers’ Council (IFTPC), Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA), Western India Film Producers’ Association (WIFPA), Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association (IFTDA).
Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit, President, IFTDA, said the entertainment industry should not become a 'scapegoat' and that all powers must reside only with the CBFC.
'The censor board works under the Constitution of India... The entertainment industry does not want to become a scapegoat. CBFC has people from all walks of life to take a decision on film certification. People can go to the court to fight it out if need be,' Pandit told PTI.
Citing a 2020 Supreme court judgment that said the 'revisionary powers were unconstitutional', the associations said the apex court observed that 'different sections of the society could have a different view to the film, and simply because of such different view, there should be no ground for the central government to review or revise a decision.' 'What is noteworthy is that even though not mentioned clearly in the struck-down portions of Section 6 of the Act, the only justification that the central government could have given as the basis for exercising the revisional jurisdiction, could not be beyond Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
'This is because any other basis for exercising such jurisdiction would have been struck down as ultra vires/infringement of the Right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). It is this right which is the basis for all filmmakers' right to produce films,' the joint representation read.
The representation noted that when it comes to considering whether or not to grant certification to a film, the CBFC has to compulsorily review the film and come to a conclusion that the film content does not fall foul of the factors mentioned in Section 5B(1) of the Act.
The 5B (1) of the Cinematograph Act states that a film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of 19 (the sovereignty and integrity of India) the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.
In such a scenario, the statement read, the only body that can reverse or confirm the decision of the CBFC is a court of law and not the 'administrative, executive machinery or bureaucracy.' The representation further read that an 'arbitrary aspect' of the new provision was that the exercise of power could be on a 'reference.' 'The use of the said term is non-judicious, vague, and without any indication of the circumstances in which such reference can be made, who is entitled to make the reference and how such person can decide to make it in a circumstance where the film has been certified and not released.' Without any clarity as to who would make such 'reference' to the central government, there is scope for 'frivolous mischievous' references to be made, it read.
'Each reference will have to be considered by the central government before they decide to direct the chairman of the CBFC to re-examine a relevant film.
'This will add to the workload of the CBFC as well as the central government while giving the power of reference to any and everyone with or without a valid reason.' The association said films are freedom of speech and expression of the creator and can have 'multiple interpretations' depending on the lens from which they are viewed.
The diverse views will lead to anyone taking offence over a film, which would only leave the filmmakers absolutely vulnerable, the representation read.
'The right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution not only squarely applies to films, but has also been interpreted to give films a wide berth in view of the importance of films in the cultural advancement of the society.
'However, the fact that it is possible with the growing diversity in the world, any group of people could find an issue with any film released, leaves the filmmaker/producers exposed.' The representation read that such issues should 'not be indulged in every instance' because every individual will view a particular film from a different perspective.
'Giving the power to make such references post-certification of a film, will open up the floodgates for a subjective and moralistic review of films already certified and defeating the entire process through which the films were initially granted a certification,' it read. PTI KKP/JUR BK BK