What ails media as a responsible vehicle?

MUMBAI: Is media socially responsible? What are the constituents of social responsibility? Does free speech entails any social responsibility on the part of the speaker? These are some of the questions that were asked in the session entitled "Is media socially responsible: Where does freedom of speech and expression ends, and responsibility begin?"

Media personality Pritish Nandy, who moderated the session, clearly maintained that "media has nothing to do with social responsibility," adding that "freedom is an absolute concept – there‘s either complete freedom with no restrictions or total bondage."

Social responsibility is thrust upon the filmmakers by the government. The govt collects taxes from cigarette manufacturers, yet it wants us to stop showing smoking on the screen. The govt makes choices, but most of these choices are hypocritical.

In our age, free media is the most reliable vehicle for discovering truths. Bereft of this freedom, media is powerless. The state is not our father or guardian, as filmmakers we are free to do what we want to.

He ended, however, on a more tolerant note by saying, "But freedom is an ongoing dialogue, and that‘s why we‘ve to listen to others."

In her speech, veteran actress and chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Sharmila Tagore discussed the role of the CBFC vis-?-vis films.

"India is a multicultural, multilingual and multireligious country. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech but since society is media dominated the govt is required to purge films of anything that might affect the larger social and cultural unity. This doesn‘t mean, however, that the CBFC intends to stifle creativity."

To bolster her point of view, she said that a great number of movies are full of disturbing images that have a detrimental effect both on the conscious and on the subconscious psyche, and invited the audience to a screening of those movies that the censor board does not certify.

"Our responsibility also lies with the marginalised remnants of the society. CBFC acts as an enabling body between producers and audience. Moreover, I don‘t think India is ready for self-regulation; I disagree with Pritish on this point."

Taking issue with Nandy‘s advocacy of absolute freedom, noted filmmaker and Rajya Sabha member Shyam Benegal said, "The censor board is a ‘negative institution‘ – it dictates what you are required to remove. A number of factors act as deterrents when it comes to making a good film. A CBFC certified film can be shown to anywhere in the country.

He then gave the example of Aaja Nachle, which, despite having a certificate from the censor board, was subjected to much social ado. This incident, according to Benegal, proves that a certificate from the board has lost its meaning.

Director Mahesh Bhatt said, "The bedrock of the media and entertainment industry is going away. My first film was banned. When I was 50, the NDA govt banned my film Zakhm. But ironically, when the censored version was released later, the film got a national integration award."

He called the present state of affairs "freedom within the prison" and called for 100 per cent artistic liberty.

Reliance Entertainment chairman Amit Khanna said, "Instead of absolute freedom, what we have is absolute anarchy. There‘s anarchy everywhere in govt regulations."

"Social responsibilities come from within. To initiate a healthy dialogue with the people, we need to educate them and dispense with the I&B ministry that imposes restrictions on the media."

Admitting that the media itself has got into "the business of manufacturing news," he maintained, "Frame a law that‘s conducive for a country like India."

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