The Cinematograph Amendment Bill, 2018- Salient Features

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Congress MP Mr. Shashi Tharoor introduced the Cinematograph Amendment Bill, 2018 (“Bill”) in the Lok Sabha on August 3, 2018.  [View here]

In 2010, draft of Cinematograph Bill, 2010 was first introduced and circulated by the I&B Ministry to the stake holders with an attempt to change the system from film certification to a classification process that would enable filmmakers to reach out to target audience. Thereafter a Committee was constituted to examine the issues of certification under The Cinematograph Act, 1952 which was headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal, Retired Chief Justice, High Court of Punjab and Haryana. A report was published by the said committee on September 28, 2013 titled ‘Report of the Committee of experts to examine issues of certification under the Cinematograph Act 1952’. The Report annexed a proposed revised Cinematograph Bill, 2013. Subsequently, another committee of experts was set up to be chaired under Mr. Shyam Benegal which submitted its report on April 26, 2016 to evolve broad guidelines/ procedures within the ambit of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 to provide a holistic interpretation of the provisions of the Cinematograph Act and Rules. There has been no development post the Shyam Benegal Committee Report on the amendment to the Cinematograph Act until the introduction of the 2018 Bill.

The 2018 Bill has been introduced with the primary objective of safeguarding the artistic freedom of film makers. The statement of objects and reasons in the Bill include that the State may regulate artistic freedom only under the grounds enumerated under article 19(2) of the Constitution, not due to disagreement with the content of the film. The pre-censorship powers of the Central Board of Film Certification and the revisional powers of the Union Government constitute a paternalistic policy, which is incompatible with the polity of a mature democracy. The mandate of the Central Board of Film Certification should be strictly confined to the certification of films. The power to certify a film should rest exclusively with the Central Board of Film Certification and should not be supplanted by another entity. The power to certify a film should not be exercised in an arbitrary fashion, but in accordance with reasonable statutory guidelines.

While the amendments introduced in the Bill seem to be in the right spirit, it is unclear as to why some of the important recommendations made in the Mudgal Committee Report and Shyam Benegal Committee Report have not been taken into consideration by Mr. Shashi Tharoor.

 Salient Features of the 2018 Bill:

  • Omission of provisions which empower the CBFC to direct the applicant to carry out excisions and modifications in the Film: The Bill seeks omission of Section 4(1)(iii) of the Act which deals with examination of films and empowers the CBFC to issue directions to the applicant to carry out such excisions or modifications in the film as it thinks necessary before sanctioning the film for public exhibition. Likewise, it seeks omission of Section 5C (1)(e) which grants similar powers to the Tribunal i.e. FCAT.
  • No person apart from the Board shall sanction films for public exhibition (insertion of section 4(3).
  • Principles for guidance in certifying films: In Section 5B which deals with principles for guidance in certifying films, the Bill provides for introduction of provision 5(B)(2) which states that the Board shall exercise its power to certify a film for public exhibition in accordance with the guidelines mentioned in Schedule I.
  • Revisional powers of the Central Government: One of the most critical amendment sought in the Bill is the deletion of Section 6 i.e. the revisional powers of the Central Government. Section 6 of the Cinematograph Act provides that the Central Government may of its own motion at any stage call for the record of any proceeding in relation to any film which is pending before or has been decided by the Board or the Tribunal and after enquiry may pass such order as it deems fit and the Board shall dispose of the matter in conformity with such order. The Section also empowers the Central Government to direct that a certified film be deemed to be an uncertified film and further suspend the exhibition of the film for a maximum of two months. The deletion of this provision seems to be in furtherance of the objective that only the CBFC should have the power to sanction films for public exhibition and the Government should not have unbridled powers to suspend the exhibition of films.
  • Power of Central Government or local authority to suspend exhibition of films in certain cases: Another important amendment is with respect to Section 13 which deals with powers of the Central Government to suspend the exhibition of films in certain cases, the Bill proposes that in Section 13(1) for the words “likely to cause a breach of the peace, by order, suspend the exhibition of the film”, the words “likely to cause a breach of public order, despite taking reasonable measures to prevent the same, by order, suspend the exhibition of the film” shall be substituted. The amended clause would read as under: “The Lieutenant-Governor or, as the case may be, the Chief Commissioner, in respect of the 1[whole or any part of a Union territory] and the district magistrate in respect of the district within his jurisdiction, may, if he is of opinion that any film which is being publicly exhibited is likely to cause a breach of the peace, by order, suspend the exhibition of the film likely to cause a breach of public order, despite taking reasonable measures to prevent the same, by order, suspend the exhibition of the film and during such suspension the film shall be deemed to be an uncertified film in the state, part or district, as the case may be.” 
  • SCHEDULE I OF THE BILL
  1. Part I deals with the Objective of the Guidelines which is aimed at ensuring that children and adults are protected from potentially harmful or otherwise unsuitable content; Audiences, particularly parents and those with responsibility for children, are empowered to make informed viewing decisions; Artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed in the process of classification of films; The process of certification by Board is responsive, at all times, to social change.
  2. Part II deals with Category of Certification of the films in the following categories:
  • U—film suitable for all persons, regardless of age, and is often family friendly;
  • U/A 12+ — film suitable for persons above twelve years of age or for a person under the age of twelve with parental guidance;
  • U/A 15+ — film suitable for persons (adolescents) above fifteen years or for a person under the age of fifteen with parental guidance;
  • A—film suitable for public exhibition, but restricted to adults;
  • C (A with Caution)—film restricted for adults with the specific purpose of cautioning them that it has more than a reasonable amount of content such as violence, sex, nudity, drugs and other related contents;
  • S—film restricted to viewership by members of a profession or any class of persons, having regard to the nature, content and theme of the film.

3. Part III deals with General Guidelines for classification of films: It provides for general factors that may influence a classification decision at any level and in connection with any issue viz.

  • Context: Context in which an issue is presented within a film or video shall be given consideration
  • Theme: to take into account the theme of a work, but shall depend significantly on the treatment of that theme, and especially the sensitivity of its presentation.
  • Tone and Impact: film should be judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact.
  • Target Audience: The classification of the film shall also depend upon the target audience of the work and the impact of such work on such audience.

4. Part IV deals with Categorization Guidelines based on the parameters of discrimination, Psychotropic Substances, Liquor, Smoking, Tobacco, imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, fear, threat and horror and violence. View table Table. 

5. Part V- CLASSIFICATION OF A FILM BY BOARD

In furtherance of the objective to do away with censorship and limit the role of the CBFC to certifying films, it has been proposed in the Bill that:

  • Applicant while submitting final cut to the Board needs to specify target audience and the classification sought. Board to inform the Applicant of the likely classification the work will receive and reasons for such decision based on the guidelines.
  • If the applicant does not accept a particular classification given to its film, he shall have the liberty to effect changes to the film and resubmit the same to the Board for achieving the desired category.
  • The Board shall not propose or make any cuts, revisions or modifications to the film to meet any of the classification categories.
  • If the Board is of the view that the film does not merit classification under any category in accordance with the Guidelines contained herein, it may refuse to accord certification under any of the above categories, and record its reasons in writing for such decision.
  • Due opportunity of being heard to be given to the applicant before an order of refusal of certificate is given. Provided that the applicant shall be given a period of fifteen days, from the date of communication of reasons, to respond and submit his argument in favour of the classification sought.

The 2018 Bill thus seeks to:

  • Remove the pre-censorship powers of the CBFC
  • Restrict the Government’s ability to suspend films
  • Provide category of certification of the film into U, UA 12+, UA 15+, A, C-A, S categories and provide categorization guidelines
  • Provide classification criteria

Some of the important recommendations of the Mudgal Committee Report and Shyam Benegal Committee Report which find no mention in the 2018 Bill:

  • To address the sensibilities of women in the films, Mudgal Committee suggested that atleast one third members should be women; Shyam Benegal Committee suggested that 50% of the representation should be of women on the Board.
  • Jurisdiction of FCAT to be expanded to permit appeals by any person appeal and not just the applicant; FCAT to be given powers of a civil court under the CPC; infrastructure of the FCAT to be augmented; right to appeal to the Supreme Court from orders of FCAT.

The Mudgal Committee had suggested several other points such as having a Screening Panel instead of advisory panel, criminalization of the act of unauthorized copying of a negative or of a film, etc. which find no mention in the 2018 Bill.

Despite its shortcomings, the 2018 Bill seems to be a step in the right direction seeking to amend some of the archaic and outdated provisions of the 1952 Act. It would be interesting to receive comments from stakeholders on their views on the 2018 Bill and whether it has met expectations.

Image source: here

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