Committee favours new criteria for choosing censor panelists

Observing that there were many complaints from filmmakers regarding those on censor board panels, a committee constituted to review the functioning of the Cinematograph Act has suggested a fresh criterion for appointment of those judging movies.

In its report, the committee headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal said that at almost every public hearing, it was faced with grievances put forth by producers, directors and associations that the present procedure for appointment of members of the advisory panel, their eligibility criteria and the quality of such panel were far from satisfactory.

"At certain locations, members of such advisory panel lack any form of cinematic understanding, they perceive their role to be that of a Censor Board to cut and chop scenes and in some cases being affiliated to some political, religious or social group, impose without restraint, such political, religious or personal opinions upon content permissible in a film," the committee said in its report.

It said it came across complaints where panel members had objected to use of words such as "boyfriend" or "kiss" in a scene or even the uncharitably humorous representation of a political figure.

In its report the committee recommended that the name of such the 'advisory panel' of Censor Board be changed to 'screening panel'. It has recommended that the Board set up a Committee comprising nine of its members ensuring diverse language representation and presence of at least two women members.

This committee would prepare a panel of members, which shall be twice the number of vacancies and who have experience in the field of art, cinema, drama, law, literature, history, sociology, psychology, media, education, performing arts, or public administration are deemed fit to judge the effect of film on the public, it said.

From this pool, the central government shall finally appoint such members of screening panel, the committee has said. 

These qualifying criteria have been designed in relation to subjects which have a direct or indirect bearing on cinema and its content, the committee said. This is to ensure that members of the screening panel have some cinematic, aesthetic or artistic background, it added.

The panel also said that members of the advisory panel while viewing films have recommended unclear cuts for example "reduce the scene by 50 per cent". It has asked panelists judging films to be more clear in their recommendations and has also suggested a criteria for choosing members.

In the proposed Cinematograph Bill drafted by it, the committee has added a provision specifically stating that only the central government can pass an order of suspension of exhibition of any film and not any state or UT administration.

Many state governments have in the past resorted to use provisions like section 144 of the CrPC, which bars assembly of four or more persons to prohibit screening of films which they felt would affect law and order.

The committee in its report noted that films like "Vishwaroopam" had run into trouble because of action by state governments.

In a draft of the proposed Cinematograph Bill, the panel has provided a provision which says that the central government may suo moto or at the behest of a state government act to prevent the exhibition of a film where it is likely to cause an imminent breach of public order.

The draft adds that no such order should be passed unless a show cause notice setting out the grounds on which action has been taken. It also provides that any person may appeal to the Appellate Tribunal against any such order.

The I&B ministry has put out the report and the proposed draft act in public domain and sought comments from the public. 

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