A guide to media censorship in India

Prachi Gohil, Roving Editor


Censorship refers to the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security. Censorship across the globe varies from country to country. For example, the North Korean government has control over everything that is seen on the internet, newspapers, and radio, while in other countries, the Board of Broadcasting allows the individual to express their views and opinions unless it threatens the security of the country.

Relating to censorship in India, media is neither entirely controlled nor does it allow an individual to express their views freely via movies, newspapers, TV shows, or radio. In India, the government can modify content on news channels just like North Korea. At the same time, they are lenient towards other news content. This attitude creates a sense of bias within an audience, which is often critiqued.

When a movie has sensitive content, most Indian students agreed that it should either be modified before release so that it won’t disturb the country’s harmony, or have a detailed disclaimer at the beginning highlighting the explicit content.  Movies across the globe are rated as ‘PG’, ‘MA’, ‘R’, and ‘NR’, whereas in India, we have only ‘U’, ‘U/A’, and ‘A’. When a movie is rated ‘NR’ or ‘R’, countries across the globe take measures when anyone goes to the theater to view it, such as an ID check. 

But, after presenting these opinions to various organizations, we have witnessed some rash decisions taken by the Board of Broadcasting (BBC) of not allowing any sort of explicit or abusive content in a movie even though they are rated ‘A’

In India, if an ‘NR’ or ‘R’ rated movie is released, they are rated as ‘A’ (meaning for adult viewing). The censorship board cuts the major section of the movie (that actually tells the story or motive of the movie) and the reason given is “our culture doesn’t allow it.” But in fact, certain movies are released which do not have explicit content, but are more violent or abusive in nature, and are released without any cuts and are rated ‘A’. 

“The best aspect of India is its culture, so censorship should be taken into consideration. Censorship of any country doesn’t reflect what culture the country depicts it is following. Censorship refers to the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable or a threat to security. If BBC is chopping explicit content based on our culture then they are wrong. Because we are the people that have created the ‘Kamasutra’.”

“BBC should allow certain restrictions about explicit or violent content and strictly block the content that threatens national security. There are two ways of going about in achieving the above: Censorship in India should be similar to the one in North Korea or there should be equal treatment for all the content in terms of cutting and modifying the content”

Another point of discussion in censorship in India is content that is broadcast via the Internet: If the Board of Broadcasting in India has set some rules and regulations, they are not directly applied to media streaming sites of international origin. So when it comes to internet streaming, streaming websites follow protocols that are set by the World Wide Web. This protocol is generally a set of rules which are created by analyzing the censorship of content in various countries across the globe. Movies like 300 and Titanic were rated as PG 13 in most countries (which is ‘U’ as per Indian censorship), but in India, it was ‘A’ rated and many scenes were chopped because of their violent or explicit nature. So, when a user goes to any one of the media streaming websites, the website gives you a statutory warning before you purchase or view the content. Because of this, the Board of Broadcasting in India doesn’t have control over the content that is streamed over such websites. A thing that the board can do is to block all the websites together or flow the censorship rules that are set by other countries around the globe.

Censorship can be a weapon in the hands of the state to make people conform with its ideology. Often, the Censor Board functions to impose the state’s notion of ‘Indianness’ and nationhood. The reach and power of films in India is massive. If a director wants to show the reality, he has to put it in a movie. Then what happens? The censor board removes it. The Dirty Picture, and other ‘A’ films, according to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), can be screened on television without cuts after 11 p.m. The BCCC suggested some sort of a coordination mechanism between the Central Board of Film Certification and the TV regulatory body for the certification of films for TV viewing. From this, does it mean that the TV is meant for children and not adults? 

Now is the time to look into the role that can be played by healthy criticism, analysis, and cinematic literacy, rather than relying on a Censor Board that acts as a moral police, stopping the dissent. 

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