Recently, the central government announced its decision to abolish the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). This abolition has raised much discussion and debate over its impact on the industry. Let’s look at the pros and cons of FCAT and how this will affect the industry:
What Was FCAT?
The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) was a statutory body, which was formed via the Cinematograph Act by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 1952. It was constituted to hear appeals of filmmakers troubled by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
As per standard protocol, all films have to go through CBFC before release. The goal of CBFC is to certify films and the law also allows CBFC to ask for modifications to be made to a film before providing a certificate if they find the content to be objectionable in any way. As a result, CBFC has used this power to demand cuts in films because of multiple reasons. For example, in 2016 the CBFC asked for 94 cuts in Udta Punjab and decided to stay the release of the film Lipstick Under My Burkha. This is where FCAT comes in. Film-makers unhappy with the demands and decisions of CBFC could approach FCAT.
FCAT was led by a chairperson and had four other members including a secretary that was appointed by the Government to handle the appeals that were raised by filmmakers.
What the shutting down of FCAT means?
The discontinuation of FCAT means that any filmmakers that have an issue with CBFC’s demands will now need to approach the high court in the absence of a dispute settlement body.
Producers are likely to be wary of getting caught in the loop of court rounds that may push the release of their films. This will also dampen the spirits of filmmakers who choose to work with stronger and bolder themes.
Additionally, it is not clear how much time the high courts have to address film certification grievances and how many producers will have the wherewithal to approach courts. The FCAT discontinuation seems restrictive and random at best.
Actor and former head of CBFC Sharmila Tagore commented saying that she had in fact requested to expand the FCAT’s mandate to help producers: “Very few producers can go to court. Even if producers can sustain the economic cost, the time lost would cost them dearly because any court case as you can imagine can take a while.”
In a nutshell, the cons of this abolition include:
- The economic cost of fighting a case in the high court
- The time lost in the ensuing delays
- Filmmakers being discouraged to make movies on controversial subjects
On the other hand, many filmmakers and critics have pointed out a possible upside to this decision:
- High Courts are more independent than FCAT which had members from political parties with their own doctrines
- High Courts are also more rigorous in their legal reasoning when examining issues of free speech and artistic freedom
- As opposed to a single tribunal, the appeals will be distributed across multiple High Courts
- High Courts will have more diversity of judicial opinion leading to a somewhat balanced and fair judgement
At this stage, one can only speculate as to the outcomes of this decision. Only time will tell if this is a wiser move in the longer run.