The Indian government on Friday directed YouTube and Twitter to take down links to the BBC documentary 'India: The Modi Question'. The directions were issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcast on Friday, invoking powers under the IT Rules, 2021.
Kanchan Gupta, a senior advisor at the ministry, had said both Twitter and YouTube complied with taking down the said links.
Responding to the criticism, the BBC last week said it was "committed to highlighting important issues from around the world". BBC also said that they had offered to the 'right to reply' to the Indian government which they declined.
The documentary reveals a never-before-published report that a British inquiry team had sent to the United Kingdom government. The report says that Modi was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence in the Gujarat riots.
Opposition leaders such as Mahua Moitra and Derek O'Brien of the TMC have criticised the government for the clampdown. The documentary was not released in India but was available through YouTube links that were later taken down.
Moitra took to Twitter on Sunday and shared an archived link to the documentary saying, "Sorry, Haven’t been elected to represent world’s largest democracy to accept censorship. Here’s the link. Watch it while you can."
Moitra later said, while sharing photos of a legal request to Twitter, that the Centre had asked for several links, like the one she had shared, to be taken down. She said, "Twitter links of citizens blocked by Govt for sharing @BBC report. @derekobrienmp & @pbhushan1 on it. My link is still up. सच कहना अगर बगावत है तो समझो हम भी बागी हैं"
Here is all you need to know about the section of the IT Rules, 2021 that the Centre used to ban the BBC documentary:
What is Rule 16 of IT Rules, 2021?
Rule 16 of IT Rules, 2021 deals with the "blocking of information in case of emergency". An authorised officer can examine the content in question and submit a written recommendation to the secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The secretary then issues directions to ban the content "without providing the content/intermediary an opportunity to be heard." The rule says that it is a measure "for which no delay is acceptable".
The rule further says that in case of an emergency, the secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting can ban public access to any information or part of it through any computer resource as an "interim measure" The ban can be issued on "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 IT Rules, 2021.
"The Authorised Officer, at the earliest but not later than forty-eight hours of the issue of direction under sub-rule (2), shall bring the request before the Committee for its consideration and recommendation," the rules specify.
Why is the documentary under fire?
The first part of the documentary, released on January 17, examines the role of the Gujarat government in the 2002 riots. In the documentary, a former senior diplomat, one of the investigators sent by the UK government, is seen saying that the violence had been planned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“At least 2,000 people were murdered during the violence, the vast majority were Muslims. We described it as a pogrom, a deliberate and politically driven effort targeted at the Muslim community,” he said. “The VHP and its allies could not have inflicted so much damage without the climate of impunity created by the state government. Narendra Modi is directly responsible,” the investigator is seen saying in the BBC documentary.
Jack Straw, who was the UK’s foreign secretary at the time of the violence, said the allegations against Modi undermined his reputation. In the BBC documentary, he says, “These were very serious claims – that Chief Minister Modi had played a pretty active part in pulling back the police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists.”
Last week, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the documentary lacked "objectivity" and showed a "continued colonial mindset". "Do note that this has not been screened in India. So, I am only going to comment in the context of what I have heard about it and what my colleagues have seen. Let me just make it very clear that we think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible," Bagchi said in a press conference on Thursday.
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