Films are not only for entertainment but are also used by film makers to express themselves on a wide range of issues from politics to religion. The message delivered by mass media such as films have always been a concern of society as a whole because it is meant to address large sections of society. Censoring films is an issue attracting regular attention due to its possible misuse and also due to a drastic increase in the number of movies.
Though change is the only thing that is constant, all societies are concerned over the pace of change, partly due to information technology and the influence of foreign culture. Centuries old ways of living are dying their own death due to a combination of factors. Individual identities being strongly interwoven with cultural, national and religious identities, many people feel an urgency to stop everything that can possibly influence the culture of society. All the same there are many who feel the need for change with times and welcome films as a tool for the freedom of expression.
Censorship is not a new aspect in the world of films. Censorship dates back to the era of silent films. Just when the films began to be publicly exhibited at the beginning of the century, people began to be concerned about the images displayed in the movies and their influence on society as a whole and on individuals. There was doubt whether the makers of films could be relied on to control the content of the films produced by them. In 1909, film makers formed The New York Board of Motion Picture Censorship to ensure self censorship of the movies. In spite of this Board, there were motions to introduce laws regarding film content. Over the years, different countries have evolved various commissions to censor movies.
There are various motives for censorship in films. The reasons range from an effort to control foreign influences on society to avoid content that is against national interest. In the modern societies, there is concern over violence against human beings or against animals or content that gives potentially harmful information or techniques. In the conservative societies, the motive for censorship is usually the desire not to let beliefs and traditions of other cultures or religions change and possibly destroy their own culture. Often there are political reasons to ban or cut a movie and often the concern is only to protect those who are unable to fully understand what is being said, such as children.
There are various arguments for and against censorship in movies. The argument presented by those who want censorship is that every society has its own morals and values and that the fabric of society can be damaged by films that challenge these values. They are mostly concerned with the depiction of women or interpretation of religious beliefs and tradition in societies. The views which counter such arguments say that it should not be assumed that people are not mature enough to understand what is being said in the film. People of this viewpoint are highly critical of the fact that a few people on the censor board are deemed to be able to represent the society as a whole. While views on the need for censorship differ, almost everyone agrees on classification of movies based on their target audience. The basic difference in the outlook is that while some believe that movies influence society, some believe that movies are influenced by society and reflect the same.
In conservative countries like Iran, many directors have been jailed or their movies have been banned by the government. At the same time, these movies have been widely appreciated and awarded in international film festivals
The main problem with censorship is that it hinders freedom of expression which is regarded as a basic human right in the present world. The other issues with censorship are that it obstructs creativity and distribution of a banned film is also a problem. In countries with strict censor measures, it becomes difficult to film certain scenes, for example, the shooting of a scene depicting women attending a football match in the Middle East region led to many complications. Often the shooting of films has to be done secretly or on foreign locations to be shielded from authoritarian or extremist forces. Film makers also have to limit themselves to subjects that will not raise debates to be on the safer side. Movies that are banned are circulated through pirated CDs because legal release is banned. In such cases, the film industry loses the money invested.
With rising juvenile crime and increase in depiction of violence, sex and extremism with the increase in number of films and winds of change blowing over conservative societies, people’s interest in censorship is growing. Those who want to use films to address the problems within society are not being stopped by censorship and information technology ensures that the message reaches the audiences.