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- Censorship in India: Factors and Features
Censorship in India has been a subject of ongoing debate and scrutiny, touching various aspects of society, politics, media, and communication. While some argue that censorship is essential for maintaining social order and national security, others view it as a barrier to freedom of speech and expression. In this diverse and complex landscape, finding the right balance between freedom and regulation is crucial.
Censorship in India: Factors and Features
One of the primary tools of censorship in India is the existence of archaic laws, such as The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. These laws have been employed to prosecute individuals, even women found with seemingly innocuous "Maoist leaflets." It is concerning that the possession of propaganda materials from banned organizations can be used as evidence for indictment without considering the context or intent.
Similarly, Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) grants the State Government the power to declare publications as forfeited and issue search warrants based on the perceived violation of certain sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This gives the State Government significant authority in determining what content is punishable, potentially leading to overreach and misuse of power.
Another contentious law is Section 124A of the IPC, which criminalizes sedition. The vagueness in defining sedition and the broad scope of the law make it a powerful tool for self-censorship. The fear of being accused of sedition often leads to individuals refraining from expressing dissenting opinions, stifling the democratic principles of free speech.
Furthermore, Section 153A of the IPC criminalizes any speech that raises questions or objections against individuals in the opposition, and Section 292 prohibits the sale of books deemed 'obscene.' These laws suffer from ambiguity and subjectivity, making them susceptible to manipulation and selective enforcement.
Institutional censorship is also prevalent in India, with the Central Bureau of Film Certification (CBFC) being one of the prominent bodies exercising it. While the intention of the CBFC is to certify films without restricting artistic liberty, it has faced criticism for adhering to outdated standards. Dismissing the recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee, which aimed to reform film certification, has further fueled discontent with the existing censorship mechanisms.
Television, being a powerful medium of mass communication, is not immune to censorship either. The Cable Television Act, enacted in 1995, grants the government extensive powers, including the right to ban cable operators and news channels. Such actions have taken place in the past, further raising concerns about media freedom and the potential for undue influence on the flow of information.
A common thread across these instances of censorship is the lack of a comprehensive and objective framework. The absence of clearly defined boundaries allows censorship to be practiced with varying degrees of subjectivity and bias. It is essential to create a transparent and fair system that protects against censorship abuses while addressing legitimate concerns.
In journalism, censorship poses a significant challenge, particularly when bureaucracy exercises control over media outlets. The fear of repercussions often leads to self-censorship, limiting journalists' ability to present unbiased and critical reporting. True journalism should be independent, investigative, and impartial, acting as a voice for the people and promoting accountability in governance.
To achieve this, a clear distinction must be made between factual reportage and opinion. Journalists should be encouraged to pursue stories that inform the public, rather than cater to specific political agendas or corporate interests. Empowering journalists to hold political parties accountable and demand transparency can strengthen democratic principles.
Film censorship, too, is a contentious issue that raises questions about creative freedom. The categorization of films into various age-based restrictions should be complemented with content warnings for explicit material, allowing viewers to make informed choices. The recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee and the Mudgal Committee, which emphasize the need for expert opinions in the certification process, should be seriously considered.
In the digital age, social media has emerged as a powerful platform for public discourse. However, social media platforms have also faced criticism for their role in censorship and content moderation. Questions about the fairness and impartiality of these platforms' policies arise when certain voices seem to face disproportionate censorship compared to others.
While it is essential to prevent the spread of hate speech, misinformation, and harmful content, strict moderation policies can inadvertently stifle free expression. Striking the right balance between ensuring a safe online environment and preserving freedom of speech is a challenge that requires constant reevaluation.
Proposed amendments to internet regulations, which may require internet companies to take down content deemed inappropriate by authorities, have raised concerns about user privacy and the potential for government overreach. Striking a balance between regulation and individual privacy rights is crucial to preserve the open nature of online platforms.
In conclusion, censorship in India is a multifaceted issue that demands careful consideration and open dialogue. To uphold democratic values, it is imperative to strike a delicate balance between freedom and regulation. Embracing transparency, encouraging open discourse, and implementing the recommendations of expert committees can guide the country towards a more equitable and accountable system of censorship.
- The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. (1995). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
- Ghosh, S., & Das, A. (Eds.). (2018). Media Censorship in the Digital Age: International Case Studies. Routledge.
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- Ramachandra, M. (2019). Regulating Freedom of Speech in India: The Paradoxes of Intervention. Taylor & Francis.
- Mehta, P. B. (2006). A Manual of Self-Regulation for Indian TV: Doordarshan and Beyond. Oxford University Press.
- Sengupta, S. (2019). The Web Was Woven: In Memoriam of India's Internet Censorship. Economic and Political Weekly, 54(48), 9-11.
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