Censorship Regime in India

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    In Context

    • Recently, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has censored posts on Twitter & YouTube related BBC documentary, India: The Modi Question.

    What is censorship?

    • Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information
    • This may be done on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”
    • Censorship can be conducted by governments, private institutions and other controlling bodies.

    Significance of censorship

    • Films:
      • Films have always been considered the most powerful medium of expression. It is stationarily accepted that cinema is a form of speech & expression.
      • They may affect public attitudes and behavior in numerous ways i.e., in negative or positive ways.
      • Removal of materials that are obscene or otherwise considered morally questionable
        • Pornography, for example, is often censored under this rationale.
    • Online platforms:
      • Increasing level of poor, offensive and abusive content is sometimes spread in the name of freedom of expression.
      • With the deeper reach of smartphones, children and youth are being misled by such content.
      • Increasing digital crimes like radicalisation, terrorist recruitment, digital hacking, child pornography, etc.
    • Political:
      • Political censorship occurs when governments hold back information from their citizens. 
      • This is often done to exert control over the populace and prevent free expression that might foment rebellion.
    • Religion:
      • Religious censorship is the means by which any material considered objectionable by a certain religion is removed. 
    • Military:
      • Military censorship is the process of keeping military intelligence and tactics confidential and away from the enemy. This is used to counter espionage.

    Legal backing to Censorship in India

    • The Cinematograph Act, of 1952
      • The legislation exclusively deals with the censorship of movies in India with respect to certain rules and regulations established by law.
      • The certification, Censor Board establishment, and scope of such Board is provided in this legislation. 
        • The practice of censoring movies to remove any objectionable material by the Censor Board has been followed in India. 
        • It is to make the movie suitable for the target audience
        • The viewership is based on the certificate issued to every movie prescribing the audience that can watch the movie.
    • Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021:
      • Digital media is brought under the ambit of Section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act, of 2000 which gives takedown powers to the government.
        • The section allows the Centre to block public access to an intermediary “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above”.
      • Digital Media:
        • It covers digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks.
        • It includes intermediaries such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.
        • It includes publishers of news and current affairs content and also curators of such content.
          • Publishers of news and current affairs content cover online papers, news portals, news agencies and news aggregators.

    Issues & challenges

    • Against the Natural justice & freedom of speech:
      • Natural justice is a fundamental principle in public law when decisions affect fundamental rights such as the freedom of speech
      • The Supreme Court of India on various occasions has recognised that the right to receive and impart information is implicit in free speech.
    • Curb Freedom of Artistic Expressions: 
      • The present norms put a curb on the Freedom to Artistic Expressions under Article 19.
    • Exploitation of emergency powers:
      • The recent blocking has been made under Rule 16(3) of the IT Rules and Section 69(A) of the IT Act, 2000 which allows for “emergency blocking”. 
      • However, the term “emergency” itself is not legislatively defined, but following the dictionary, the meaning would mean “a dangerous situation requiring immediate action”
      • It permits an expedited process that weakens the already minimal checks by bypassing a committee and eliminating the opportunity to be heard. 
        • We have also been witnessing increased use of this emergency power,
    • Rising Intolerance and Populist measure: 
      • It has also been alleged that the rules will be more misused than for real regulation.
      • There are instances when the government tried to curb certain Anti- Government Agendas while ignoring populist fake news.
    • Selective targeting: 
      • Most arguments like abusive language, against the cultural ethos, are either vague or irrelevant as they often depict day-to-day life.

    Way ahead

    • Need of a show cause notice:
      • Any restriction must ordinarily issue a show cause notice, provide the opportunity of defence to the author, and record reasons in an order that is made public. 
      • Providing reasons allows for the author or publisher, as well as the recipient of the information, to seek judicial remedies and act as a check for constitutionally permitted censorship. 
    • Need of an independent authority:
      • An independent authority may be appointed in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and Judiciary to ensure a neutral person for regulating the content.
    • Better definitions:
      • The definitions must be precisely defined involving the judiciary and industry stakeholders to avoid any controversy. 
    • Achieving balance:
      • There are numerous landmark judgements in this regard which have mostly arisen out of a conflict between the fundamental right to speech and expression and the restrictions imposed in consonance with the restrictions enshrined in the Constitution for the right. 
      • It is the obligation of the state to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens and every action while sanctioning the censorship shall be equivalent to reasonable restrictions.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What is the significance of censorship in India? What is the legal backing for Censorship? Discuss the issues & challenges surrounding censorship.