‘Censor Board’ reforms should start with greater transparency

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The revamped website of the CBFC does not have any of the information directed to be disclosed by a CIC order in 2015. The reforms to the Censor Board should start with greater transparency.

The Censor Board or officially the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is not new to controversies. After Pahlaj Nihalani took over as the chairman of the CBFC, it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Venkaiah Naidu, the minister for Information & Broadcasting had recently said that the recommendations of Shyam Benegal and Mudgal Committee were under consideration of the government and changes might be brought about in the certification process. He was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of  ‘Online Film Certification System’. While reforms are the need of the hour, they should start with greater transparency in the CBFC.

Allegations of favoritism

In 2015, an audit report had accused the CBFC of favoritism. The report had mentioned instances where a few films were certified in a matter of 2-3 days after application while some films took more than 100 days for certification, though the rules specify a maximum time limit of 68 days. Rumours are rife that certification process for movies with a big star cast is faster than for the ones without them. The report also mentioned that the secretary to the chairperson had issued certificates to two movies that were earlier rejected by the examining committee etc.

CIC Orders not followed

The Central Information Commission (CIC) had in March 2015 directed the CBFC to publish a laundry list of things on its portal. While hearing a complaint by Edara Gopi Chand, the CIC directed the CBFC that the following items should be proactively published on its portal in fulfillment of its obligation under Sec 4(1)(b)(xvii) of the RTI act.

  • Minutes of the Statutory Meeting of the Board
  • Annual Statutory Report submitted to the Central Government
  • Statutory register with details of the certified films maintained as per rule 39 of Cinematography (Certification) Rules 1983
  • Norms & guidelines issued by government to CBFC for selecting & recommending advisory penal members
  • Sample format of different certificates being issued by CBFC
  • Details of banned films

The CIC gave a deadline of June 2015 to the CBFC. The CBFC had since then maintained that a new portal is under development and that all the requested information would be available on the revamped portal. A full 21 months after the CIC’s deadline elapsed, the CBFC had in March 2017 launched a revamped portal. In clear violation of the directions of the CIC and contrary to what was promised by the CBFC, none of the above information is found on the revamped CBFC portal except for the annual reports till 2014-15.

Online Certification is a step in the right direction, but clearly not enough

In March this year, the CBFC also launched the online film certification system called the ‘e-cinepramaan’.   Among other things, the status of application would be visible online in the dashboard of the producer and the CBFC official in the new system. In case of short films/trailers less than 10 minutes, they can also be submitted online. The new system also sends alerts to the relevant officials depending on the pendency of the application so that the time limits prescribed in the rules are followed.

While this system is a step in the right direction, this clearly is not enough. The revamped CBFC portal only displays the name of the movie, certificate type, certificate date and the certified length on the public search facility.Censor Board Reforms_1It does not give details such as the date of application, list of cuts (part 2 of the certificate) etc. In fact, one of the directions in the CIC order was to proactively disclose the statutory register as per rule 39 of Cinematography (Certification) Rules 1983. Rule 39 mandates that certain basic information about each certified film be recorded in a register.Disclosing this register and other details will not only help the film makers, but also help the general public understand the working of the board, the kind of cuts being suggested, the time taken for certification of various types of films etc. Such measures for transparency alone can push the CBFC work efficiently for fear of public pressure. While reforms to the current laws are necessary, we should start the process with greater transparency in the working of the Censor Board as directed by the CIC.

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