Recently the government of India imposed a ban on the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question”. Ban on BBC documentaries is nothing new, there have been various instances of such bans. The most recent example of a blanket ban was in the year 2015, when a documentary titled “India’s Daughter” was created on the 2012 gangrape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi. In 1970 also, two documentaries were banned and BBC was expelled from India until 1972. During the emergency of 1975, imposed by Indira Gandhi, BBC was again expelled.
Now coming back to the present ban. The documentary “India: The Modi Question” has been released in two parts. The first part was released on 17th January. It focuses on PM Modi’s relationship with the Muslim minorities of the country and assesses the role of PM Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the Gujarat riots of 2002, in which casualties were more than 1000. The documentary cited a secret British diplomatic investigation’s conclusion that PM Modi was directly responsible for the violence. On this basis, it blames the PM for the horrific incident.
It was not on the air in India but the link to it was accessible on various social media platforms. The Government of India directed Twitter and YouTube to remove the link to the BBC documentary. The centre used its emergency power to impose the ban. This decision was taken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by invoking section 16 of the Information Technology Rules, 2021. Later two PILs were filed in the Supreme Court of India against the ban on the circulation of the link. One was filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Journalist N Ram, and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and another was by advocate M L Sharma. These PILs stated the violation of the right to know something and that the contents of the BBC documentary and the tweets are protected under Article 19(1)(a). The Supreme Court agreed to list the matter and proceedings took place. However, any interim order was not passed by it. The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Union of India and directed it to produce the original records on a decision to block the screening of the BBC documentary.
RECENT CLEAN CHIT TO PM IN 2002 RIOT BY THE SUPREME COURT
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the SIT’s decision to provide clean chit to 64 people including PM Narendra Modi, in the 2002 Gujarat riot case. Zakia Jafri’s petition was also dismissed because of being devoid of merits.
WHAT DOES RULE 16 OF IT RULES, 2021 SAY?
Rule 16 of IT RULE, 2021 deals with the “blocking of information in the case of emergency”. “In case of emergency nature, the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may, if he is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient and justifiable for blocking for public access of any information or part thereof through any computer resource and after recording reasons in writing, as an interim measure issue such directions as he may consider necessary to such identified or identifiable persons, publishers or intermediary in control of such computer resource hosting such information or part thereof without giving him an opportunity of hearing” according to the Rule 16 of IT Rules, 2021.
QUESTIONS BEING RAISED
- The most important question being raised is regarding the freedom of speech and expression and the role of media in a democratic system.
- As highlighted by the PIL, people have a right to know and this ban snatched away this right.
IMPACTS OF THE BAN
These bans cause repercussions which are much more serious than expected. These bans cause a lot of damage to India’s reputation. International communities have condemned this, stating it as an attack on free speech. It can also affect India’s relations with other countries, especially Britain.
The bans have also had an impact on the media groups in India. The group is divided on this issue. One section expressed concern for the government’s tendency of silencing criticism and the fear about the condition of press freedom in future. The other section supported the government’s decision stating it as an attempt to tarnish India’s image.
After analysing the whole situation it becomes clear that when the Supreme Court of India gave the clean chit to PM Modi for not being responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots, it can be a foreign conspiracy to tarnish the image of India and its government. But it is in no way correct to snatch away people’s fundamental rights from them. Moreover, we should also wait for the final decision of the apex court to come to any conclusion. Because it might be haste to come to a decision at this very point and form any lopsided opinion.
Author(s) Name: Ananya Giri (Chanakya National Law University , Patna)