'Misconceived': Supreme Court junks plea to ban BBC in India over Modi documentary

Feb 10, 2023 02:03 PM IST

BBC Modi documentary row: The government had banned social media sites from sharing links to the two-part documentary.

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed as 'entirely misconceived' a petition by Hindu Sena chief Vishnu Gupta that sought to ban India ops of the British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC, over its controversial two-part documentary on prime minister Narendra Modi.

People watch the BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question", on a screen installed at the Marine Drive junction under the direction of the district Congress committee, in Kochi on January 24, 2023.(AFP)
People watch the BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question", on a screen installed at the Marine Drive junction under the direction of the district Congress committee, in Kochi on January 24, 2023.(AFP)

Gupta had claimed the BBC had taken an 'anti-India' position in the documentary - which has made headlines in India for its criticism of the prime minister - and that the film is '(the) result of deep conspiracy against global rise of India and its Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi (which)... is not being digested by anti-India lobby, media particularly BBC'.

A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh refused to entertain the plea but siad other matters - the government's ban on the documentary - were a different matter.

According to legal news website Live Law, senior advocate Pinky Anand, representing the petitioner, said (in response to Justice Sundresh calling the plea 'misconceived': "Kindly see the background when the documentary has happened. Today you have a position when you have an Indian as the Prime Minister of the UK. India is rising as an economic power."

To this Justice Khanna retorted: "How can this be argued? You want us to put complete censorship? What is this?"

Last week the court heard two other petitions on this topic - including one filed by Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, journalist N Ram and advocate Prashant Bhushan - and asked the government to produce a record of its decision to takedown tweets with links to the films. The government was given three weeks to do so and the matter was posted for April.

The documentary - 'India: The Modi Question' - questions Modi's handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots; he was then the chief minister of Gujarat.

The government had directed social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube to block links to the documentary, which the ministry of external affairs slammed as a 'propaganda piece' that reflected a colonial mindset.

"We think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias and the lack of objectivity and frankly continuing colonial mindset are blatantly visible," spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said last month in response to questions on the films.

The documentary has spurred agitations in India and abroad, with critics of the government and adovcates of free speech protesting the government's ban, while others - including some members of the Indian diaspora - favour of the ban and protest against the BBC.

The documentary and its banning also triggered outrage from students at colleges and universities across the country, including Jawaharlal Nehru University, where a protest screening was organised and violence followed.

READ | BBC-Modi film row - Power cut at JNU; students allegedly attacked

In last week's hearing the court refused to discuss this issue and directed proceedings before it to be confined to legal arguments.

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