FICCI Frames 2008: Freedom of expression or social responsibility - The tussle continues

‘Freedom is the lifeblood of entertainment and media, it is our breath, and we shall protect it from dying’: the ever-effervescent Mahesh Bhatt with his take on freedom of speech and expression. ‘Media and Entertainment guys must abjure social responsibilities and stick to what they know best, because the decisions that government officials take are often hypocritical’, thus spake Pritish Nandy. And the debate continues.

e4m by Rishi Vora
Updated: Mar 26, 2008 7:30 PM
FICCI Frames 2008:  Freedom of expression or social responsibility - The tussle continues

It is true that we are living in the age of information explosion, where media plays a significant role in empowering, educating and even molding mindsets of many. The question that arises during such times is that pertaining to ‘Social Responsibility’. Has the media and the entertainment space proved its ranks, is a question that bothers not only authorities from the I&B ministry, but also citizens of our country.

A panel discussion titled ‘Is Media & Entertainment Socially Responsible: Where does freedom of speech and expression end and social responsibility begin?’ saw the panel engage in heated debate with a lot of contradicting views being witnessed. The panel comprised of big names as Pritish Nandy, Founder, PNC; Sharmila Tagore, Chairperson, CBFC; Zohra Chatterji, Joint Secretary, Ministry of I&B; Amit Khanna, Chairman, Reliance Entertainment & FICCI Convergence Committee; and Filmmakers such as Mahesh Bhatt, Shayam Benegal and Pritish Nandy who moderated the session.

Nandy started off the proceedings on a hilarious note as he said, “Freedom is freedom! It’s like virginity - you either have it or you don’t.” On a serious note, Nandy explained that media was only the most liberated space in the world to be able to inflict changes in the society, and thus with that comes social responsibility. “But I do feel that with these responsibilities, what comes to fore are political powerplays by bureaucrats. Media and Entertainment guys must abjure social responsibilities and stick to what they know best because the decisions that government officials take are often hypocritical.”

Nandy pointed out that media in the past had been successful on many occasions in exposing the truth about the menace of many criminals. “Allow the government to intervene in free media and never expect the truth to be exposed,” he affirmed.

He also stated that media has nothing to do with social responsibility so media should adjourn this nonsense related to social responsibility.

Tagore, on the other hand, tried best to clear the position of the Censor Board. She said, “Our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and its important to have freedom of expression in a democracy. But India is a country of different cultures, and thus freedom of expression sometimes can hurt the sentiments of many. The Government of India has given us (CBFC) the mandate to monitor films for that matter.”

Tagore also stated that film business was a good contributor to the economy’s growth, and that the Censor Board doesn’t intend to mar this development. “CBFC is an enabling body between producers, civil society and the government. Every country has some form of censorship. In America, censorship certification is handled by its own fraternity, but in our case it is handled by the government. I understand that the primary responsibility of cinema is entertainment, but we cannot leave behind Social Responsibility. It is a collective responsibility, and thus everybody including the producer, the director and everybody should take cognizance of the same.”

Benegal was appreciative of the Censor Board that is in place today, and he confessed that in his entire career span, nobody had restricted him from making a film of his choice. Referring to the past and the way the Censor Board in India operated, Benegal said, “During my early days, the Censor Board would actually tell me what things I should have in my film and what I should not. Things have certainly changed today.” He also believes that the industry has to live with such censorships, because at some point of time, a filmmaker has to accept censorships for the fact that he would be able to show a film freely all over the country without controversies.

Bhatt, as he usually does, awakened the audience with his witty remarks. “Freedom is the lifeblood for Entertainment and Media, it is our breath, and we shall protect it from dying. You make a spectacular ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, and all you get is belittlement from a few for no reason,” he remarked. Bhatt was totally against restriction of freedom of expression, in fact, he propagated ‘Absolute Freedom.’ “The fear of censorship is so much that a director starts thinking about censorship the moment he gets an idea or a thought from which he could make a movie.” Bhatt concluded by saying, “While it is the responsibility of the state machinery to ensure law and order, their helplessness in the matter is pathetic.”

Amit Khanna expressed anguish at the sheer tenacity with which the political leadership had clung to the controls of media. He referred to different laws on investment to regulation in telecom, broadcasting and TV that had made the situation totally chaotic. “The media has a great responsibility as it will ultimately change the way we are governed and who we are governed by,” he added.

Chatterji was also pro-social responsibility as she said, “The Government is trying to put together a Content Code for the media and broadcasting industry. It is important for media to exercise social responsibility and do research on consumer preferences and not just be guided by TRP ratings.”

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