The Election Commission (EC) is unlikely to defer the release of the biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as demanded by the Opposition for alleged violation of the code of conduct. It will, instead, pass the buck to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), The Indian Express has learnt. The Commission’s speaking order is expected this week.
Hitesh Jain, lawyer for the producers, told The Indian Express Wednesday that the biopic’s certification is “in process”. Tushar Karmarkar, CBFC’s Mumbai regional officer, did not respond to calls, texts and an email. The film, PM Narendra Modi, is slated to release Friday.
Meanwhile, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has sought time until April 5 to respond to the EC’s letter seeking comments on complaints by the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party against Namo TV, a new channel dedicated to showing rallies and speeches of the Prime Minister.
The Indian Express reported on March 26 that the EC examined the Congress’s plea to defer the release of the biopic in light of the Supreme Court order of March 25 in which the apex court took exception to the West Bengal police objecting to the public screening of Bhobishyoter Bhoot even though it had been cleared by the Censor Board.
The SC said that the above action of the state “directly impinge upon the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India”.
The Commission’s inclination to not interfere in the certification of films during the poll season is also clear from its letter to the CBFC on March 25. In this letter, the EC is learnt to have clarified that the Censor Board, when the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in force, should certify political films (or films that are political in nature) as per extant provisions of the Cinematograph Act.
The poll panel’s letter was sent in response to a clarification sought by the CBFC’s regional office in Mumbai on March 15 on how it should certify films when the Model Code is in effect.
Karmarkar, in his letter, is learnt to have asked whether the Censor Board needs a No Objection Certificate or NOC from the EC before clearing political films or invite an EC official to be part of the examination committee for such films. To this, the Commission wrote back advising the CBFC to operate as per the Cinematograph Act. In other words, the poll watchdog said that the Censor Board has the last word on such matters.
The Congress and Left parties have objected to the biopic’s release on April 5 on the ground that it is aimed at influencing the voters. The Congress wants the release of the movie to be deferred until the final phase of voting in the Lok Sabha polls. It has alleged the purpose of the movie is political and that it was produced by people who are part of the BJP.
The Commission wrote to the film’s four producers and the BJP seeking their comments on the Congress’s complaint on March 25. The producers responded on March 28 denying any link with the BJP and said they had “put in their personal money for the making” of the film.
BJP leader Bhupendra Yadav responded to the EC on the party’s behalf saying that any curbs imposed on the film would amount to curbing freedom of expression and that a commercial film, with no link to the party, does not violate the Model Code.
Incidentally, NaMo TV, which was briefly rechristened as Content TV last week, came up just weeks ahead of the general elections and is already available on all major national DTH operators including Tata Sky, Dish TV, Airtel, Siti Network, among others.
Since the channel is not mentioned in the I&B Ministry’s list of permitted private satellite channels in India, the Congress told the EC that either “the channel “Content TV” is being broadcast as a government-sponsored channel” or it has “not got any official clearance” from the I&B Ministry and “the contents are being broadcast in complete violation of the rules and regulations of cable televisions”. It asked the EC to direct the I&B Ministry to suspend the channel.
The I&B ministry, sources said, had sought an extension on the ground that it needs to check with the DTH operators before filing its response with EC. The Commission has agreed to the ministry’s request and insisted that the new deadline be strictly adhered to.
National broadcaster, Doordarshan, however, filed its response to the EC on time about Congress and AAP complaints on DD News showing the live broadcast of Modi’s “Main Bhi Chowkidaar” event on March 31.
According to sources, DD News has informed the EC that the event was sourced from an ANI feed and was aired for its newsworthiness just as it had covered Congress’s manifesto release live on Tuesday. Sources also said that Prasar Bharati has asked DD News to be careful in the election season and ensure all political parties get coverage.