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New Delhi: The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India and film bodies such as Producers Guild of India and Indian Film and Television Producers' Council have written to the government on what they deem problematic aspects of the proposed Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The proposals may have an adverse impact on the ability to reach content to a wider audience, including on television which requires airing of films certified for unrestricted public exhibition. The new mandatory sub-classifications may hamper this and therefore film industry bodies have pointed out in written statements calling the restrictions arbitrary and unreasonable.

The Cinematograph Act, 1952, provides for the certification of films under three categories ‘unrestricted public exhibition,’ subject to parental guidance and the adult film category. However, these the government seeks to further sub divide it into age-based categories, such as U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+.

“(The proposed amendment stems from) absence of guidance on how to arrive at the relevant sub-classification, (and is) prone to arbitrariness and thereby against Article 14 (on equality before law)," ASSOCHAM has said. The film bodies too have pointed out that “while the principle of such classification is welcome, it is requested that the criteria for making the same ought to be clear and also be made available in the public domain, in order for our members and other film makers to make informed choices or decisions accordingly."

More importantly, while a decision of the High Court of Karnataka states that the central government cannot exercise revisional powers in respect of films that are already certified by the censor board, the amendment proposes that the government may, if it considers it necessary to do so, direct the chairman of the board to re-examine a particular film. This, ASSOCHAM says, is “against the principles of separation of power and a potential ground to enable interference with independent decision making by an expert body or statutory mechanism. It is to be noted that the office of the expert body is in any case solely at the pleasure of the Central Government," the body says.

This April, the ministry of law and justice had abolished the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body, constituted via the Cinematograph Act, 1952 by the ministry of information and broadcasting, to hear appeals in respect of an applicant aggrieved by an order of the central board of film certification or the CBFC.

“If the filmmaker or producer is now exposed to a recertification process even after the certificate has been granted, then there will be immense practical difficulty in distribution of the films and there will be a direct impact on the revenues to be generated from a film," the producer bodies have said.

In terms of penalties for copyright infringement, the body has said that this provision should not be limited to copying of film inside the theatre but also include leaking through unlawful access of server, any means of unauthorised copying and / or download of digital files from servers or computer resources. It has also suggested overhaul of the guidelines for certification to remove subjective provisions and instead provide guidance for each category of classification (in line with suggestions of the Shyam Benegal Committee) adding that relevant principles should be made basis judging content on overall impact and contemporary standards.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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