ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday observed that the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC), without holding an inquiry, prima facie overstepped its authority vested by banning the screening of a feature film, Maalik.

“Do you decide to ban a film on public sentiments or the law?” asked Justice Qazi Faez Isa, a member of the two-judge SC bench, while pointing towards CBFC Chairman Mobashir Hassan.

The bench headed by Justice Umar Atta Bandial had taken up a federal government appeal against the Sept 9 Sindh High Court’s quashing of the government notification to de-certify censor certificate issued to the movie under Section 9 of the Motion Pictures Ordinance (MPO), 1979.

The court, however, asked the government to submit a comprehensive transcript and material containing objectionable scenes and dialogues in the feature film because of which the film was banned by the government.

The court was also surprised why the CBFC did not raise any objection to the movie in the first place while approving it for unrestricted exhibition in the country.

The CBFC chairman conceded that no inquiry was held before banning the movie. But, he added, institutions, like the judiciary and executives, had been painted in a disparaging manner in the movie and that it also incited the citizen of the country to take the law in their own hands. Therefore, the film was banned on receiving public complaints for hurting their sentiments, he argued.

Justice Bandial observed that the judiciary had always welcomed criticism unless it was not part of a malicious campaign.

“Institutions should respect and accept criticism since it is the way forward and good for its betterment,” he said.

The CBFC passed the film first, but subsequently banned it on public complaints, the court observed. It said Section 9 of the MPO was silent about banning the film on public sentiments unless it became necessary to do so in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or to prevent the commission of, or incitement to, an offence.

On Friday Barrister Faroogh Naseem, who appeared on behalf of Ashir Azeem, the director and producer of Maalik, told the court that currently there was no ban on the exhibition of the movie though his client was being pressurised. He also told the court that he cannot submit the compact disc of the film because of copyright issues though it can be shown in the court.

The court, however, declined to watch the movie saying it was not its job but asked the government law officer to see the film.

During the hearing the court also inquired about the government’s policy and then went on to say whether it revolved around only importing Indian movies and closing Pakistani movies.

The CBFC chairman told the court that the department had issued notices to members of the censor board for approving the movie for screening at the time of issuing the censorship certificate.

In its appeal the federal government through the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage had pleaded before the Supreme Court to set aside the high court order since it failed to appreciate, rather misread, the material on record.

The government appeal argued that after release of the local feature film Maalik, a plethora of public complaints started pouring in from the across the country in which people expressed their extreme reaction against the movie through phone calls and letters as well as personal visits to the CBFC office.

After examining all the complaints, the CBFC de-certified the film through a notification on April 27.

Being aggrieved the producer approached the SHC which quashed the notification, though according to the government’s appeal, the high court declared the de-certification notification as null and void without specifying the areas/provinces where the film’s exhibition was restored.

Published in Dawn October 8th, 2016