Cable TV

I&B ministry might be liberal on anti-smoking ban

NEW DELHI: Information and broadcasting ministry is now in two minds --- to support fully or not --- over a proposed ban from 2 October on depiction of smoking in cinema and on television as being pushed by the health ministry.

Information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy, while coming out in support of "creative freedom," today hinted that the government is "not averse" to be more liberal when examining whether smoking scenes could be allowed in films and TV serials in future.

"Since after the ban, depiction of smoking on screen is to be judged on a case by case basis, the (I&B) ministry is not averse to extend the grounds on which such scenes could be incorporated," the minister explained.

In a move, which has been widely criticized as infringement of freedom of (creative) expression, the health ministry has proposed that from October smoking cannot be depicted in any way in films and TV programmes.

In a bizarre move --- that has been watered down since then --- health ministry had also said during scenes showing people smoking in old films and TV serials, scrollers ought to be running at the bottom stating that `cigarette smoking is injurious to health.'

Reddy, however, had a difficult time in defending how such a ban could be extended to films not made in India, but exhibited widely in theatres here.

Cornered by journalists today on the issue, Reddy first gave a wishy-washy explanation before resuming his composure and saying that foreign films , having scenes of people smoking, would be subject to censorship when getting a Censor Board certificate for exhibition in India.

"We cannot tell them (foreign film-makers) not to have scenes of smoking in films. But, after all, such films would have to obtain certificates from the Censor Board here before getting clearance for exhibiting them in cinema halls," the minister said when accused of not providing a level playing field to Indian cinema.

He also added that it would be the responsibility of Indian distributors of foreign films and exhibitors to ensure that messages relating to ill-effects of smoking are prominently displayed before and after any foreign film where smoking has been depicted.

However, the anti-smoking ban will not be extended to live events being aired on TV for technical reasons and on old classics and social documentaries being made in future.

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