India abolishes film certification appeals body without warning, experts say move will lead to more censorship

The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) helped the 2017 acclaimed Hindi film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ to be screened after an initial ban. — Screengrab from YouTube
The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) helped the 2017 acclaimed Hindi film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ to be screened after an initial ban. — Screengrab from YouTube

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — Indian filmmakers will now have to appeal certification decisions to the High Court after the federal government quietly scrapped the country’s censorship appellate tribunal.

The Information and Broadcasting ministry’s Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) is where filmmakers would go when they disagree with India’s main film certification body.

The new order which was passed on Easter Sunday on April 4, sees the Cinematograph Act amended where the words “Appellate Tribunal” have been substituted with “High Court”.

According to Variety, the decision was made under the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill which was introduced in the Indian parliament on February 13, 2021 and established emergency powers.

The bill could not be debated in parliament as it is not in session now.

Indian president Ram Nath Kovind said he “is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action”, adding that the order will come into force at once.

The decision isn’t good news for filmmakers and Bollywood isn’t happy with the removal of FCAT.

The appeals body helped feminist films such as 2017’s Lipstick Under My Burkha overturn a ban after it was described as “lady oriented, their fantasy above life” by India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Filmmakers Hansal Mehta (Aligarh), Vishal Bhardwaj (Omkara) and Guneet Monga (The Lunchbox) have voiced their disappointment on social media, calling it a sad day for Indian cinema.

Mehta pointed out that many filmmakers won’t have the financial means to take their appeal to court.

 

 

 

Legal experts say the move to transfer the appeals process to the judiciary could increase delays for filmmakers waiting for clearance.

The new order could also lead to more censorship, Internet Freedom Foundation lawyer and executive director Apar Gupta told the Indian news site The Print.

“This move is likely to increase delay, costs and indeterminacy for filmmakers who earlier approached the tribunal for relief” Gupta said.

Supreme Court advocate Divya Kesar spoke of the counterproductive effect of the order, saying that a tribunal equates to quicker disposal of justice.

“Removal of FCAT will lead to an invariable delay and will make it a long drawn process for filmmakers and actors.

“This will lead to stalling and could indirectly lead to more censorship for the film industry.

“One will be discouraged to try new things in movies and documentaries as the mechanism that existed for a long time — a specialised tribunal for specific purposes — the FCAT has been abolished,” Kesar added.

Over in Europe, Italy officially abolished its film censorship policy that has been around since 1913.

The state will no longer be allowed to ban films over religious, moral or political reasons.

Instead, filmmakers will be given the liberty to classify their own films based on current audience age brackets.

“Film censorship has been abolished,” culture minister Dario Franceschini said in a statement on Monday.

“The system of controls and interventions that still allow the state to intervene in the freedom of artists has been definitively ended."

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