By Deepti Purwar, Law College Dehradun.
Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, or authorities. More often than not, there is news of something getting banned somewhere in the world for reasons that seem unreasonable to many while a necessity to the rest. In India, specially, censorship exists widely. While each country and each culture censors the media in one way or the other, the amount of censorship or the cut-off level which defines what to show and what not to, differs. Sometimes the censorship can be a blanket ban on a certain taboo topics and the definition of a taboo topic would be given according to the governing authority in the country. A classic example of censorship in India is the Central Board of Film Certification or Censor Board, which comes under the purview of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The censorship of films is governed by the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The Press Council expressed its concern over the increasing instances of obscene advertisements in the print media. It opposed censorship but favoured preventive steps to check any obscene material at pre-publication stage. Around the world the utmost concern of censors is the depiction of violence and sex. The job of the censor board is to control the “corruption of the mind’ and to stop pornographic films. But on the other hand. It is ironical that anyone with internet access can see endless amounts of pornography.
While the censor board has long discussions on the permissible duration of apparently objectionable scenes in a movie such as the huge controversy with regards to the kissing scene in Dhoom 2 which ended in people burning the movie posters and obstructing people from entering the cinema halls. However, every coin has two sides to it and censorship too has certain advantages and disadvantages to it as have been discussed below:
ADVANTAGES OF CENSORSHIP:
MEDIA INFLUENCE ON SOCIETY: As a community, we are heavily influenced by the media and other sources of information. As a result, we tend to overlook the bias created by the media in its portrayal of events and occurrences that change the viewers’ perception done in order to attain and maintain a high Target Rating Point. As a result, most of the time we are fed information that may be entirely false and baseless. The media has the ability to manipulate its viewers in different ways. It is difficult to fully trust any news or report on an event. Furthermore, television shows such as Sach ka Samna, Swarg ki siddi, etc have influenced society in ways that deviate people from the reality of life.
MEDIA TO BE CENSORED FOR CHILDREN: The young minds cannot differentiate between real and make believe. The amount of violence and obscenity displayed, affects the psyche of young children. We do not want our children to think that it is okay to be a thug, a stalker, or a bully. Hence the amount of violence the media broadcasts needs to be censored for the young minds who still cannot differentiate between right and wrong. Also the approach towards the topics of sex and pornography should neither be casual nor should they be treated as a taboo because either way gives a wrong idea to the young minds. Certain advertisements that meant for adults and are displayed on cartoon or other channels that are viewed by children need to be filtered. There needs to be an age restriction strictly employed and the open media grounds like the news channels and newspapers must restrict their portrayal of such topics keeping in mind the age of the general audience.
SECURITY OF SECRETS: In cases where the public interest is in question, censorship becomes an absolute necessity. The detailed discussion of every minute detail of our army’s movements and presence as in the Border Security Forces’ case in Kashmir by the media can prove dangerous as the information provided to the general public is accessible by all. This information can be easily used by the wrong people against us. It is necessary also because it helps in controlling panic and rumors throughout the country during an emergency like a terrorist attack, for example the terrorist attack in 2008 of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. Mandating censorship on defense related and sensitive subjects is mandatory. A two-tier censorship structure – the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for the silver screen, and the body enforcing the rules for cable television, with the latter having far wider powers.
DISADVANTAGES OF CENSORSHIP:
FREEDOM OF SPEECH: The very concept of censorship clashes with the principles of democracy. The Constitution of India guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1) (a) with certain ‘reasonable restrictions’ under Article 19 (2) which are morality, decency, public order etc. In Romesh Thappar v State of Madras, the Apex Court rightly observed that “Freedom of Speech and of the Press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular Government, is possible“. Statutes such as the Right to Information Act, 2005 entitles every citizen to have access to information with an object to promote openness, transparency, and accountability in avenues of administration but this right is restricted by needless restrictions and bans. Also, the Information Technology Act, 2000 aims to punish people who send offensive messages online but unfortunately is often used to target dissidents and even harmless posts on social media which diverts the attention from the actual objective that the restrictions seek to maintain. Very recently, the Supreme Court struck down Sec 66A of IT Act which allows arrest of person posting objectionable content on social network on the ground that it violated freedom of expression under Article 19 (1)(a). Sec 66A has been invoked to make several arrests for publication of allegedly offensive contents on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
HINDERS CREATIVITY: Censorship hinders creativity. Censorship in books, plays and movies may compromise their entertainment value. It debars from voicing one’s thoughts freely in any medium and can be used to block legitimate criticism. The Indian Broadcasting Federation has set up a mechanism for self-regulation through the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (‘BCCC’) which addresses complaints through a two-tier process. It is guided by the Content Code and Certification Rules, 2011. The two parallel regulatory mechanisms (BCCC and IMC) have given rise to confusions with respect to the procedure for redressal of complaints. This issue was challenged by Viacom 18 Media Pvt. Ltd., which owns Comedy Central, before the Delhi High Court.
MISUSE AND IGNORANCE: Media is a major source of information. Everything that we know is happening round the globe today is provided by news channels, newspapers, internet and other forms of media. In our country, political parties suppress rightful information in the name of censorship. Censorship is used to keep people ignorant. The decision maker of what is appropriate on a social level are a handful number of people sitting in a room and declaring what is right and what is wrong basing on their ideologies which again, is highly subjective.
Absence of censorship is neither practical nor pragmatic as will cause chaos and conflict in the nation. However, using it censorship also doesn’t mean that the government uses it for its own personal gains by suppressing dissent or diverting from actual issues of concern also does not counterbalance the situation. India is the largest democratic nation in the world and there are enough precedents to show that the Judiciary recognizes the difference in opinions and viewpoints and the existence of criticism as long as it does not hinder the public peace. Sadly, today censorship is used as a weapon in the hands of the State to ensure that people agree with its ideology and often the Censor Board functions to impose this very notion of the State. To ensure that the censorship is not misused or used excessively, a balance needs to be struck on both State action as well as the actions of the media. The subjective nature in this regard cannot be discounted but placing reliance on the older judgments of the Apex Court and its interpretation of laws in this respect can help reduce the confusion and give the people of our country a clearer outlook of their rights.
 AIR 1950 SC 1024