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Can an independent filmmaker’s documentary on how the activities of aerated drinks and bottled water companies harm the environment and livelihoods be denied certification on the grounds of being defamatory, politically motivated and misleading?
This is the central question in Jharana Jhaveri’s writ petition filed before the Delhi High Court. The petition was drafted by Advocate Ahmed Faraz Khan and argued by Senior Advocate KTS Tulsi.
In 2016, Jhaveri made the documentary “Charlie and the Coca Cola Company”, highlighting the miserable conditions and widespread protests by farmers in certain parts of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat arising from the issue of severe water abuse by aerated drinks companies including Coca Cola. The companies’ actions have led to acute depletion of ground water, thereby turning lands in the vicinity completely barren with no water to till their fields, consequently forcing many farmers to sell off their lands.
The film also showcased the plight of workers employed by these companies including the Coca Cola company. The workers are compelled to work in unsafe conditions without any protection on abysmally low wages.
On August 3 last year, the CBFC passed an order stating it would not grant certification to the film because of its defamatory and politically motivated content. The Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), on March 8 this year, upheld the CBFC order and held that the film was misleading and contained defamatory imputations intended to shut down the plants of the Coca Cola Company.
Aggrieved by the FCAT order, Jhaveri moved the Delhi High Court.
At the very outset, Jhaveri contends that nowhere in the documentary did she depict anything with an intention to defame the Coca Cola Company. The film, which does not contain any commentary and has only footage captured by camera, shows workers and farmers protesting against the environmental havoc wrecked by all aerated drinks companies, be it Coca Cola or Pepsi, which also manufactures bottled mineral water.
The FCAT failed to appreciate that one or two remarks made specifically with respect to the Coca Cola company to extract information from those who are being interviewed does not amount to defamation, and, if so, it could have been easily subjected to cuts/modifications/disclaimers, instead of the entire film being denied certification, the petition claims.
Jhaveri contends that by its its myopic decision not to grant certification, the FCAT has sought to deny that there are grave issues of environmental damage and loss of livelihood. She argues that it is as if there is an effort to prove that these issues do not exist in reality. She alleges that the charge of defamation was brought in only so that the censors could claim to have been going by one of the grounds the film certification guidelines lays down for denying a film or documentary a clearance certificate.
In order to buttress her contention, Jhaveri relies upon the Delhi High Court’s 2012 decision in Prakash Jha Productions vs Bata India Limited & Ors . In that case, the Court while dealing with a film which contained a song which was alleged to be defamatory to the company Bata, held that by the four business houses named in the song, the understanding of the song would not be with reference to a particular house but to a class which propagates the ideology of industrialization.
She also cites the Bombay High Court’s 2016 decision in Phantom Films P Ltd. & Ors. v. The Central Board of Film Certification & Ors, in paragraph 45 of which it was held that the Censor Board cannot, in the garb of alleged public interest of public taste, try to mould, shape and control public opinion.
In conclusion, Jhaveri contends that the FCAT failed to appreciate that merely because the documentary is critical of a particular business essentially because of its deleterious impact on society, it does not mean that she intends to bring disrepute to the company running that business or to defame it.
The next hearing of the case is on 27 July, on which date the government is supposed to file its response to Jhaveri’s allegations.
Read the Writ Petition here: