Govt blocks access to BBC documentary on Gujarat riots

Published on Jan 21, 2023 11:30 PM IST

The documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation is critical of the role played by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when sectarian violence claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people — mostly Muslims —after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned allegedly by a Muslim mob.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

NEW DELHI: The Union government on Saturday ordered video sharing service YouTube to take down copies of a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots, and asked Twitter to remove posts in connection with the film that the administration believes poses a threat to the sovereignty of the country, its relationships with other nations, and public order, people aware of the matter said.

The documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation is critical of the role played by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when sectarian violence claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people — mostly Muslims —after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned allegedly by a Muslim mob.

The development came after Indian authorities, including the ministry of external affairs, on Thursday dismissed the film titled India: The Modi Question as “propaganda” and a reflection of “bias and a colonial mindset”.

Also Read | ‘Propaganda’: MEA rejects BBC documentary on Modi

According to a person who asked not to be named, the Union information and broadcasting ministry invoked emergency government powers under the IT Rules, 2021 to flag the versions of the film and about 50 tweets, including by opposition leader and Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien.

Both YouTube and Twitter have complied with the directions, the person quoted above added.

“While the documentary was not aired in India by the BBC, some YouTube channels appear to have uploaded it to promote an anti-India agenda. It is reported that YouTube has also been instructed to block the video if it is again uploaded on its platform. Twitter has also been directed to identify and block the tweets containing the link to the video on other platforms,” the functionary added.

Also Read | BBC documentary row: Rishi Sunak defends PM, snubs Pak-origin MP

Officials from multiple agencies including the ministries of external affairs, information and broadcasting and home affairs, were reported to have concluded that the documentary “was an attempt to cast aspersions on the authority and credibility of the Supreme Court of India, sow divisions among various Indian communities, and make unsubstantiated allegations regarding actions of foreign Governments in India” the person said.

Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2021 allow the government to order social media companies to take down content in several scenarios, including those cited by the government. The rules themselves have been challenged in court by petitioners contending it amount to overreach since such provisions are not contained in the parent Information Technology Act.

The Opposition criticised the government’s decision to bar viewership of the documentary. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “PM and his drumbeaters assert that the new BBC documentary on him is slanderous. Censorship has been imposed.”

Also Read | TMC's Derek O'Brien says Twitter deletes post on BBC's PM Modi documentary

TMC MP, Derek O’Brien said the documentary had “exposed” PM Modi. “CENSORSHIP@Twitter @TwitterIndia HAS TAKEN DOWN MY TWEET of the #BBCDocumentary, it received lakhs of views. The 1 hr @BBC docu exposes how PM @narendramodi HATES MINORITIES,” O’Brien said in a tweet.

The BJP declined to comment on the issue.

Separately, a group of 302 former bureaucrats, diplomats and judges wrote an open letter condemning the BBC film as a “motivated charge sheet against our leader, a fellow Indian and a patriot”.

Also Read | Group of bureaucrats, ex-judges call BBC series on PM 'motivated charge sheet'

In the letter, the 302 signatories said the film is the archetype of past British imperialism in India setting itself up as both judge and jury to resurrect Hindu-Muslim tensions, which, they said, were a creation of the British Raj policy of divide and rule.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.

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