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Constitutionality of The BBC Documentary Ban

Introduction 

Not long ago the I&B ministry blocked all forms of legal and illegal online distribution of the BBC Documentary on PM Narendra Modi called ‘India: the Modi Question’. The documentary is said to have disclosed gory details on the 2002 riots in Gujarat called the Godhra Riots. The documentary examines the role of the then CM of Gujarat Mr Narendra Modi in the ethnic violence during his tenure. the two-part documentary provides exclusive insight with interviews with Indian officials who were part of the administration at the time. The Indian government has called the documentary a blasphemous attempt at disrespecting the Prime minister of India, top officials of the Indian government have come out to call the documentary “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as ‘documentary’.”  There is alleged mention of a direct role of the prime minister in the violence that took place in 2002. The supreme court and the special investigation Team (SIT) constituted to examine the role of the accused in the riots have given a clean chit to the prime minister in the case of Zakia Ahsan Jafri vs. the State of Gujarat. The Indian government has already ordered applications such as YouTube and Twitter to block any content related to the documentary from being published on their platforms under the emergency powers granted by the country’s information and technology law. This blog article will examine the constitutionality and the justness of the imposed ban from a legal viewpoint.

Is the Ban on the documentary Justified legally?

Now that we have acquainted ourselves with the background of the situation at hand, let us examine the legality of the said issue. So, the ban spoken of in this article was imposed under the Information and Technology rules, 2021, specifically under rule 16 which says: –

Blocking of information in case of emergency.— (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in rules 14 and 15, the Authorised Officer, in any case of emergency nature, for which no delay is acceptable, shall examine the relevant content and consider whether it is within the grounds referred to in sub-section (1) of section 69A of the Act and it is necessary or expedient and justifiable to block such information or part thereof and submit a specific recommendation in writing to the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

So as the aforementioned rule states the ban was imposed in case of emergency to protect the interests of the nation. The government, by this law, is fully equipped to impose such bans, thus the ban, standing alone is valid, but the nature in which it is being exercised calls for the attention of the judiciary in examining the constitutionality of this law. It most certainly has the ability to be exploited at the hands of someone who may possess the intention of keeping the subjects of one’s government in the dark about matters of crucial national importance thus, these laws require an overlook.

Historically in India, the laws surrounding censorship, and imposition of such bans have a longstanding history in relation to colonialism, be it the first regulatory provisions passed by lord Wellesley called the press regulations or the onset of the 1835 press act Which provided some relaxation. But after the independence of our beloved nation the need for freedom of the press was deeply felt and thus paving way for art. 19(1)(a) which includes the freedom of speech and expression and includes an implied application of this fundamental right over the liberty of the press too. However, it is pertinent to note that, this freedom is limited by certain clearly defined restrictions set forth in Article 19(2). Thus, this has been the history of such legislation regarding the subject matter at hand.

Judiciary’s attitude towards curbs on media

The Indian judiciary has been loyalists of the people they serve justice too since their inception. Protection of rights has been a topic of prime importance for the Indian justice system, and censorship of any kind has been no excuse, the judiciary has always shown up as a saviour for the noble cause of freedom of expression. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, the 1952 Act’s censorship rules and their constitutionality were challenged. However, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality within the scope of Article 19(2) and added that films must be distinguished from other forms of art and expression due to their “ability to stir up emotions more deeply than any other product of art.” But it also said that it should be “in the interests of society”. The judiciary has time and again provided us with a balanced viewpoint of our political issues that are fit constitutionally as well, the ban on the BBC documentary is valid on constitutional grounds, but the judiciary is still going to lengths and addressing all the PILs sought for the Documentary Ban. The judiciary comes in peace to serve justice and will continue to do so, they take note of the vulnerable and the parties affected by it and serve justice

The Indian judiciary has been loyalists of the people they serve justice too since their inception. Protection of rights has been a topic of prime importance for the Indian justice system, and censorship of any kind has been no excuse, the judiciary has always shown up as a saviour for the noble cause of freedom of expression. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, the 1952 Act’s censorship rules and their constitutionality were challenged. However, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality within the scope of Article 19(2) and added that films must be distinguished from other forms of art and expression due to their “ability to stir up emotions more deeply than any other product of art.” But it also said that it should be “in the interests of society”. The judiciary has time and again provided us with a balanced viewpoint of our political issues that are fit constitutionally as well, the ban on the BBC documentary is valid on constitutional grounds, but the judiciary is still going to lengths and addressing all the PILs sought for the Documentary Ban. The judiciary comes in peace to serve justice and will continue to do so, they take note of the vulnerable and the parties affected by it and serve justice aptly. And this sensitive topic will be no excuse.

Conclusion

The issue discussed above has stirred up tension all over the nation and calls for the attention of the appropriate authorities. At the same time as citizens, we need to sit with ourselves and educate ourselves on the many violations of rights that take place around us on a routine basis, events like such give us an opportunity to read up on the laws that govern us and such is the purpose of this article as well. These bans are nothing new and will keep coming up but it’s upon the discretion of the citizens to act upon them fairly and justly, raising questions and seeking answers is a natural right and our constitution works in optimum capacity to serve this purpose, and one can hope for a positive outcome in the issue discussed here. 

Author(s) Name: Anoushka Pal (Dr. B.R Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat)