BBC rejects India's request; Dec 16 gangrape documentary aired in UK

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Dec 11, 2015 15:10 IST

Rejecting a request from India not to telecast a controversial documentary by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin on the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape, the BBC aired it in the early hours of Thursday (Indian time).

Replying to a letter from Rakesh Singh, joint secretary in the information and broadcasting ministry, BBC Television director Danny Cohen wrote on Wednesday that after 'lengthy and careful consideration', the BBC had decided to telecast the film.

The BBC's move came against the backdrop of the Indian government moving to block the film worldwide amid a raging controversy over its content.

Home minister Rajnath Singh had directed the BBC and the ministries of information and broadcasting, external affairs, and information technology to ensure Udwin's film, India's Daughter, was not broadcast or put on social platforms anywhere in the world, officials said.

The BBC, however, aired the documentary in the UK from 3.30am Thursday (IST) -- it was originally scheduled for March 8, International Women's Day.

"We appreciate your concern but we feel India's Daughter has a strong public interest in raising awareness of a global problem and the BBC is satisfied with the editorial standards of the film. We have also received assurances from the production company that they gained access through the proper channels in order to conduct what was an extensive and considered interview," Cohen wrote.

"We do not feel the film as currently edited could ever be construed as derogatory to women or an affront to their dignity. Indeed, it highlights the challenges women in India face today," he added.

An 8-minute edited version of the film was broadcast in BBC's Newsnight programme on Tuesday night. The documentary was supposed to be telecast on Sunday in seven countries, including on NDTV in India.

The film was not aired in India on Wednesday night due to a ban imposed on it. Delhi Police had registered an FIR against Udwin's documentary on Tuesday and obtained a restraining order from a local court.

"It should be noted, although the BBC is happy to take your views into consideration, we are not planning to transmit the film in any territory which lies under Indian legal jurisdiction," Cohen wrote.

"The remarks of the perpetrator are set among a number of other views, including those of the parents, ex-or present members of the judiciary, witnesses and personal testimonies."

The 60-minute documentary includes a lengthy interview conducted in jail with convict Mukesh Singh. It also has interviews with the victim's parents, two defence lawyers ML Sharma and AP Singh, legal experts Leila Seth and Gopal Subramaniam, and relatives of the other convicts in the case that had triggered a nationwide outrage.

In portions of the documentary that appeared in the media and on YouTube on Tuesday, death row inmate Mukesh Singh, who was driving the bus when the crime took place, blames the 23-year-old victim for the brutal assault that ultimately killed her.

"The purpose of including the interview with the perpetrator was to gain an insight into the mindset of a rapist with a view to understanding the wider problem of rape," Cohen added.

Udwin's appeal

Sources said the home ministry was planning legal action against Udwin, who left India on Wednesday after an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi "to deal with this unceremonious silencing of the film".

"This was my gift to India and it was rejected even before it was released. I am deeply saddened I have to leave under these circumstances but I also have promotions lined up in New York and London. I would have wanted to stay on and fight till the end," she told HT.

Udwin said she was saddened by the ban but insisted to HT that she had all the required clearances from Tihar and the home ministry along with signed consent forms from the convicts she interviewed.

Uproar in Parliament

The issue rocked Parliament with women MPs from opposition parties storming the well of Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

"It has been 3 years, what justice are you going to give to the memory of this woman? Please tell us what the immediate action will be," asked Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan.

Home minister Singh told Parliament he was "stunned" how permission was granted for convict Mukesh Singh's interview inside Delhi's Tihar Jail. The director general of Tihar Jail, Alok Kumar Verma, was also summoned by Singh over the issue.

"I was stunned and deeply hurt by this when I came to know about it yesterday (Tuesday). I spoke to the authorities and made sure that all steps are taken to stop the broadcast," Singh said, adding the Centre would not allow the commercial use of such incidents.

Singh assured MPs the government would act promptly and firmly against those who allowed the interview.

"The government condemns it. It will not allow any organisation to leverage such an incident (the gang-rape)."

Meanwhile, the no objection certificate issued to Udwin remained at the centre of the controversy with the home minister saying the permission was issued by the home ministry in July 2013.

Singh's predecessor and Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde, however, said he did not give any permission for shooting the documentary and that no papers had come to him in this regard.

(With HTC inputs in Delhi)

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