Censor Board

Ministry/Department : Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
Motive: Censorship and classification body
What it does?
  • It assigns certifications to films, television shows, television ads, and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in India
  • The Board consist of non-official members and a Chairperson (all of whom are appointed by Central Government)
  • Grants 4 kinds of certificates to films:
    • U –unrestricted exhibition
    • UA- unrestricted exhibition, with a word of caution to parents that some content might not be appropriate for children below 12 years of age
    • A- adults only
    • S- restricted to special class of persons
  • CBFC is a statutory body under Cinematograph Act 1952. This act empowers the CBFC with pre-censorship i.e. before releasing a film for mass viewing, it must be given a clean chit by CBFC (also interchangeably referred to as the Censor Board).
  • The board makes sure that the film content does not fall under the “reasonable restrictions imposed upon freedom of speech” under Article 19(2) of the constitution. But since these reasonable restrictions are ambiguously worded (public order, decency, morality etc.), this gives CBFC leeway to exercise arbitrary jurisdiction to impose cuts and restrictions
Court’s view on censorship:
  • Supreme Court observation: freedom of expression cannot be curtailed without a valid reason.
  • Film is nothing but artistic expression within the parameters of law and that there is no warrant or justification to curtail it.
  • Courts prefer to protect the right to free expression rather than entertain excuses such as maintenance of law and order and public tranquility, or someone’s sense of hurt or the fear of someone being portrayed in a bad light.
Recent cases of Censor Board Activism:
  • Recent experience suggests that the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) does not always see itself as a certifying authority, but rather plays the censor quite merrily. In the case of Udta Punjab last year, it was seeking to be the guardian of Punjab’s honour against the depiction of the high prevalence of drug addiction in the State.
  • The Bombay High Court had to remind the CBFC that certification, and not censorship is its primary role and that its power to order changes and cuts must be exercised in accordance with constitutional principles.
  • More recently, the CBFC sought to play the moral censor with regard to Lipstick Under My Burkha, a film it thought was too “lady-oriented” to be given a certificate, presumably because it depicts their fantasies.
  • The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal had to intervene to secure the release of the film, with an ‘A’ certificate.
  • These instances demonstrate that challenges to freedom come from both within the systemic framework and outside.
Autonomy of censor board has its direct bearing on the protection of freedom of speech and expression in the country. Elucidate. Suggest measures to improve the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in the light of recent controversies. (200 Words)

The Constitution of India has mandated the people with freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, subject to certain restrictions. However, censorship in films has been dealt with on a slightly different plane primarily due to the fact that they have immense potential to sway public opinion in a country which has often witnessed communal and religious disharmony.
The recent censoring of a movie by the CBFC on the grounds that the movie promoted superstitious beliefs and that the lead actor of the movie is a controversial figure (who has been earlier accused of hurting Sikh sentiments, sexual exploitation of women and murder) is justified in the sense that freedom of expression cannot be absolute, especially in such cases where a person may try to better his image through a positive portrayal onscreen.
The CBFC’s autonomy has been important in insulating the board from political parties especially those who might want to carry out political or religious propaganda through the medium of films. The banning of the documentary Final Solution (based on  Gujarat riots) is a case in point. However, there have been instance of the board’s overt activism. For example, the movie Gulabi Aaina, which was based on trans-genders, was banned in India although it had won numerous awards all over the world.
The government should presently try to tender complete autonomy to the CBFC by classifying it as an independent body and not under MoIB. The Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal can also be reformed vis-à-vis National Green Tribunal to prevent any political interference. The civil society and NGOs can also be engaged to participate in the selection of the members as well as in the issuance of certificates to films.

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