Govts must keep off Censor Board

The dramatic resignation of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson Leela Samson along with several members in protest against the government interference is a clear example of how functionally-autonomous institutions are perpetually under threat from vested interests. The immediate provocation was the Hindi film “Messenger of God” which the CBFC had denied clearance for screening.

The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, however, cleared the film in an unusual quick manner and this led to the resignations. What is even more shocking is Samson’s revelation that the board was under pressure from the BJP government, and has been so from the days of the previous Congress-led UPA regime. This obviously means that governments, of any kind, do not appreciate real freedom and would rather take it upon themselves to take sides even if it means stifling democratic processes. Reports say that the Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, on whom the “Messenger of God” is based, played a key role in the BJP’s win in elections recently in Haryana. The censors stated that the film was likely to inflame sectarian passions and had recommended deletion of certain parts
it deemed were offensive. It is unfortunate that governments led by politicians, irrespective of their ideologies, do not see the merit of independent decision-making and would prefer to kow-tow to vested interests and arm-twist bodies like the CBFC to subserve the needs of various lobbies. 

While the CBFC chief and other members have responded commendably to the extraneous pressures, some questions arise which need their attention as well. For example, why did not Samson and her colleagues quit earlier? If they did not think it fit to resign earlier, what was the provocation now and how did it differ from the previous occasion?  The principled stand of Samson and her colleagues appear somewhat wobbly when seen in the context of the previous reaction. Be that as it may, the upshot of the resignations has meant that something that was ‘discreetly’ handled by various governments has now come into full public view. This is a positive development as a public debate on any issue is always healthy. As the saying goes, exposure to the sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The Narendra Modi government should seize the opportunity and induct new appointees who are known to be independent, above board and have an interest in the arts. This, while safeguarding the institution of the censor, is also an opportunity for the government to show it respects autonomy and does not belittle genuine independence.

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