Privatising Film Certification: Towards a Modern Film Rating Regime

Privatising Film Certification: Towards a Modern Film Rating Regime
Madhav Chandavarkar, Adhip Amin, Shikha Pathak, Siddarth Gore, Devika Kher and Guru AiyarThe Takshashila Institution

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Executive Summary
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is in charge of the regulation of the exhibition of films in India under authority granted by the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The current system of regulation is failing due to three primary reasons: the subjectivity of the medium of film, the lack of qualified members to actually watch and certify the film, and the lack of autonomy from the union government. The final point is particularly worrying as the certification of films is liable to be done on the basis of political expediency as determined by the whims of politicians in power. This malaise is only furthered by the fact that both the certifying authority and the first avenue for appeal are appointees of the union government.

The primary thrust of this advisory is to screen films using a marketplace model. It is suggested that:

  1. The CBFC be renamed the Indian Movie Authority (IMA) and that the primary purpose of the IMA would be to license and regulate private organisations called Independent Certifying Authorities (ICAs) which will then certify films.
  2. The certificate granted by ICA will only restrict what age groups the film is appropriate for. This is the only form of pre-censorship that is necessary in today’s age as all other restrictions on film exhibition should be applied retrospectively. The choice of ICAs available for producers to approach will render the question of subjectivity moot as the producer can switch to another ICA if unsatisfied with the certificate. The IMA will set the guidelines for the ICAs to follow and will be the first point of appeal.
  3. The IMA will consist of the following bodies: the Board, the Tribunal of Movie Certification, the Cinema Regulatory Board, the Grievance Redressal Authority and the IMA Journal. The primary purpose of the Board shall be to regulate ICAs and issue the guidelines that ICAs must follow in certifying films. The Tribunal will have jurisdiction over all complaints regarding a film’s certification, including from State Governments anticipating a law and order situation.Presided by an ex-justice of a High Court or the Supreme Court, the Tribunal will have to resolve all complaints in a timely manner. The Cinema Regulatory Board will ensure safety standards in cinema halls as well as strictly enforce the restriction of underage viewers into cinema halls.The Grievance Redressal Authority will be the body to which any complaints about the ICAs should be forwarded. The Authority will examine whether the ICA has violated any provisions of its license and send its report to the Board who shall then sentence the ICA accordingly. Finally, the IMA will publish the IMA Journal which will be a regular compendium of all the TMCs judgments as well as any judgments in the High Courts or the Supreme Court that affect the exhibition of films.

The ideal method for implementing this new regime would be a new legislation repealing the Cinematograph Act, 1952, entitled the Indian Movie Authority Act. This Act, aside from constituting the various bodies of the IMA, will contain various provisions necessary for the functioning of the new regulatory framework. This will include the appointment process of officers of the IMA, the necessary qualifications for an ICA and the procedure to apply for a license, the broad principles for certification of films to be interpreted by the Board of the IMA and the procedure for appealing a certificate to the Tribunal.

By ensuring the functional autonomy of the IMA and opening up the option of independent certifying bodies, the regulation of film exhibition will thus be on par with that of other modern democracies. In an age where films are the primary storytelling medium and people are brought up with a slew of visual imagery, this will increase the level of public discourse. The current regime is preventing this space for debate and is often a target of ridicule in popular media. It is believed that the time is now ripe to introduce a more forward-thinking approach to the topic at hand.

Download the policy advisory in PDF format (508KB)

This policy advisory can be cited as: Madhav Chandavarkar, Adhip Amin, Shikha Pathak, Siddarth Gore, Devika Kher and Guru Aiyar“Privatising Film Certification: Towards a Modern Film Rating Regime”, Takshashila Policy Advisory, 2016-03. (2016)

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