Weekly focus on state culture: Board of censors to be reformed

Culture Minister Saber Arab has formed a new committee to regulate the work of the censorship board.

The board of censors currently requires filmmakers to apply for permits before working on a production, in addition to a final review before public screenings.

The new committee will develop a comprehensive restructuring plan to turn the board into a central authority responsible for managing and protecting artists’ intellectual property rights and the rights of the public, according to ministerial decree no. 362/2014. It is also entrusted with developing a proper rating system.

The extant legislation seeks to protect minors from content that contains excessive violence, crime or sex. According to Article 3 of decree no. 220/1976, this is meant to shelter them from content that affects their psychological wellbeing or shakes their religious faith. These criteria, however, have frequently been criticized for being too vague, with the potential for subjective application depending on the censor reviewing a particular work.

It seems, however, that the restructuring will be a long process: The ministry also issued a second decree, no. 363/2014, to form another committee to support the work of the first. The second committee includes a selection of sociologists, psychologists, educators, media professionals and representatives from the Filmmakers Syndicate, the Higher Institute of Cinema and the Cinema Industry Chamber.

The ministry explained in a press statement that its decisions are in line with processes for developing standard rating systems worldwide, and that there are no overlaps between the two committees’ work and the current board of censors.

It is difficult to predict how much change these committees will bring about. Several reform plans have been drawn up over the years, including one by a former head of the board, Sayed Khattab. Despite the reforms he proposed, Khattab insisted that the role of censors in safeguarding public morality and the state’s interests should not be denied.

Recent controversies around the banning of films such as “Halawet Roh” (Sweetness of Spirit, 2014) have highlighted the need to review existing censorship laws and they way they are applied, Khaled Abdel Galil, the culture minister’s advisor on cinema and the supervisor of the restructuring plans, told the privately owned daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The previous head of the board, Ahmed Awaad, resigned last month after “Halawet Roh” was banned by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb. No replacement has yet been appointed.

Whether the committees will take into account previous proposals and concerns that have repeatedly been voiced by both filmmakers and activists is up to them.

The advisory committee started its work last week, Khattab said, by reviewing the film “Bint min Dar al-Salam” (A Girl from Dar al-Salam, 2014). Having reviewed the film, it will advise on a proper rating system to be applied to such productions in the future.

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