Chanakya IAS Academy Blog

  • Understanding freedom of speech and expression
    • Freedom has been viewed as a basic necessity for human beings to live a full and happy life. It is a cardinal virtue in a democratic nation.
    • Freedom in simple words is about the absence of constraints. However, mere absence of external constraints does not help. Freedom is also about expanding the ability of people to freely express themselves and develop their potential.
    • Both these aspects, absence of external constraints as well the existence of conditions for people to freely develop their true potential are equally important.
    • Freedom of Speech and Expression has been explicitly guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 19. It is a Fundamental Right which all citizens of the country enjoy.
    • At the same time, the Constitution imposes certain reasonable restrictions on free speech as well. These are in the form of threats to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign state, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence
  • Defence of freedom of speech and examination of extent of censorship
    • Many great thinkers and writers have presented detailed arguments justifying the need for freedom in thought and expression
    • Essay on liberty by John Stuart Mill- The author offers reasons why freedom of expression is essential
      • No idea is completely false- if we ban false ideas, we would lose the element of truth in them
      • Only via a conflict of opposing views does the truth emerge.
      • We cannot be sure about truth. Ideas that seem false today, may turn out to be true in future.
    • John Stuart Mills Harm Principle- gives criteria on when freedom could be curtailed.
      • Freedom of speech must only be curtailed to prevent undue harm to others.
      • The harm must be serious in nature. In case of minor harm, only milder tools such as social disapproval must be used and not the force of the law. Eg playing loud music.
      • Only in serious cases of major harm must freedom be restrained. Else society must bear the inconvenience in the spirit of protecting freedom
    • The importance of Freedom of speech and expression is particularly immense in Indian context where various gagging acts were in place under British rule and the freedom to express has been won after a long struggle.
    • Further, the various social reforms of 19th century such as abolition of sati, widow remarriage etc would not be have been possible if we had resorted to hurt cries.
  • Free Expression, Cinema and Censorship
    • Cinema has been a classic means of expression. Therefore, it has been looked at from the same lens of freedom of speech and expression. Ability to make and release films is akin to an expression of creativity, guaranteed by Article 19.
    • However, the very nature of cinema as a mass media, with tremendous outreach, has led to increased responsibility and increased restrictions on the ability to express.
    • The Central Board for Film Certification in India is tasked with certifying films for public viewing. It examines the suitability of movies for public viewing and suggests changes/deletions if it includes threats to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign state, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence
  • Shyam Benegal Committee
    • Amidst great dissatisfaction among filmmakers over allegedly excessive censorship by CBFC, Shyam Benegal Committee was set up to lay down a holistic framework for certification of films.
    • The committee was tasked to
      • lay down norms for film certification that take note of best practices in various parts of the world and give sufficient and adequate space for artistic and creative expression
      • lay down procedures and guidelines for the benefit of the CBFC Board to follow and
      • examine staffing patterns with a view to recommending a framework that would provide efficient and transparent user friendly services
    • The recommendations of the committee are:
      • Film certification process
        • CBFC should only be a film certification body whose scope should be restricted to categorizing the suitability of the film to audience groups on the basis of age and maturity except in the following instances to refuse certification –
        • The applicant must specify the category of certification being sought and the target audience.
        • More specific categorisation: the committee recommends that categorisation should be more specific and apart from U category, the UA Category can be broken up into further sub-categories – UA12+ & UA15+. The A category should also be sub-divided into A and AC (Adult with Caution) categories.
      • Regarding CBFC
        • the Board, including Chairman, should only play the role of a guiding mechanism for the CBFC, and not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of certification of films.
        • The functions of the Board shall be confined to the duties defined in the existing CBFC rules
        • Given these limited functions, the size of the Board should be compact with one member representing each Regional Office. Therefore, the total composition of the Board should not be more than nine members and one Chairman.
      • Other recommendations:
        • Online submission of applications as well as simplification of forms and accompanying documentation.
        • Recertification of a film for purposes of telecast on television or for any other purpose should be permitted.
  • Recent incidences of censorship/restrictions/violation of rights of media
    • A number of incidences have occurred in India and world over sparking a debate about a balance between free expression and reasonable restraints on the same, especially in the context of media. Each case presents different intricacies and a one size fits all approach is not valid.
      • Charlie Hebdo Case- attack on office of Charlie Hebdo magazine by radical islamists for publication of objectionable cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
      • Perumal Murugan Case- Novelist Perumal Murugan’s work Madhurobhagan offended the sensibilities of many sections in Tamil Nadu. He had to give up writing altogether amidst threats to his life and safety of his family.
      • The killings of bloggers in Bangladesh to curb the new ideas put forward by these bloggers challenging religion and faith.
      • BBC Documentary- India’s Daughter- documentary over Delhi rape case was banned by Government of India as it allegedly incited violence against women and showed India in poor light
      • numerous arrests under Section 66 of IT Act
        • 12th class boy arrested over comments made on social media against politician Azam Khan
        • 2 girls in Maharashtra arrested for comments made over holiday due to Bal Thakeray’s death
      • Controversies over censorship of movies- PK Movie controversy, Udta Punjab Controversy
  • Udta Punjab Controversy and legal opinions over censorship
    • The film Udta Punjab has been the new scene of a controversy. The case is clearly drawn between the need to censor movies vs the manner in which excessive censorship stifles creativity and freedom of expression.
    • The movie had been under the censor’s scrutiny due to use of cuss words, references to drug trafficking and state of Punjab etc. The review committee of the CBFC had passed the movie with 13 deletions. However, the film-makers challenged the same in Bombay High court.
    • The Bombay High Court ordered that Udta Punjab be granted a certificate in the ‘Adult’ category and allowed to be screened with one cut and a disclaimer.
      • The court has passed a landmark judgement, clearing clarifying the role of CBFC. The court served a reminder that certification, and not censorship, is the real job of the CBFC.
      • The power to order changes and cuts must be exercised only in line with provisions of the Constitution and Supreme Court orders
      • CBFCs mandate is not to interfere with the film-maker’s creative process and freedom of expression; Clearly, suggesting that all references to Punjab be removed was an overreach of its mandate
      • The CBFC has been advised to move with the time and view cinema in the context of the age represented and the maturity of the current audience
      • It has reminded the Board that a film should be seen as one whole and its scenes and dialogues be not taken out of context.
      • The reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) were never meant to be invoked when people, in power or otherwise, found something in poor taste, offensive or against the grain of social or political opinion.
  • Way ahead
    • Clearly, cinema is a wonderful tool of expression with an immense outreach. Hence, regulating/certification is a necessary evil. The need here is to strike a balance and draw the line between regulation and over-regulation
    • Excessive censorship must clearly be checked. Using the rationale of hurt sentiments to curb creative freedom is must be avoided in our country, where tolerance and accommodation have been cardinal virtues.
    • The Shyam Benegal Committee had recommended that the CBFC should be nothing more than a certification body. It has suggested that films be classified on the basis of their suitability to different age groups. This could be a reform in the right direction.
    • The other side of the coin, the film-makers must also exhibit a level of self-regulation and refrain from unwanted elements such as excessive violence, objectification of women etc.
    • Together, the film-makers and the CBFC must work to create a fabric of a free, open and creative society.
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