SC fines WB govt for shadow banning film

SC fines WB govt for shadow banning film

'Bhobishyoter Bhoot' promotional poster.

The Supreme Court on Thursday cautioned the government on attempts to silence voices and expressed its concern over growing intolerance towards artistic freedom.

A bench presided over by Justice D Y Chandrachud directed the West Bengal government to pay damages to theatre owners for not allowing shows of a Bangla film.

The top court also fined the TMC government with Rs 20 lakh for shadow banning 'satire' 'Bhobishyoter Bhoot'.

It said the state government has to pay damages to theatre owners who could not screen the movie due to orders issued by the police officers.

The court had earlier said it was “very-very insidious in a democracy” if the police authorities directly send a letter to the cinema theatre owners to stop the screening of a film.

“It cannot be accepted that a film which is critical of the political class is to hurt public sentiments. Under what authority and law, a police officer can write to theatre owners to pull down a particular film,” the court had asked.

The court had then said it would lay down guidelines in this regard as it reserved its judgement on a writ petition filed by Indibily Creative Pvt Ltd, challenging the validity of police officers' letter to stop the screening of the film 'Bhobishyoter Bhoot'.

“Yes, the police authorities can pass an order under Section 6 of the West Bengal Cinemas Regulation) Act, 1954 or Section 13 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, if there is any apprehension of law and order. But in absence of such an order which can be challenged in a court of law, how can the police directly ask theatre owners to stop screening of the movie,” the bench had asked.

The court also took exception to the letter seeking private screening of the movie before the police officers.

A West Bengal counsel submitted following the apex court's order a letter sent by the Joint Commissioner of Police to the producer of the film on February 11, 2019 was withdrawn. The court had then taken exception to the letter which said the “film may create political law and order issues”.

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing the film producer, a “worrying” trend has been seen where a film producer was directly told by the police authorities to stop screening a movie without resorting to legal provisions.

“The state of West Bengal is duty bound, once the film has been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (“CBFC”) to take necessary measures to protect the fundamental right to free speech and expression of the producer and the director,” the court had said.