SC Notice To Centre Over Pleas Challenging Move To Block BBC Documentary

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The documentary focuses on Modi’s and his then-state government’s response to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The Supreme Court Friday issued a notice to the Centre over pleas against its decision to take down links to BBC’s documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’, The Indian Express reported. 

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundres, while hearing the matter, said that the court cannot pass interim directions till it heard what the Centre had to say. The court will next hear the case in April.

The apex court also directed the Centre to produce original records relating to taking down orders. “We are issuing notices. Counter affidavit be filed within three weeks. Rejoinder within two weeks after that,” the bench said.

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While one petition was filed by Journalist N Ram, TMC leader Mahua Moitra and advocate Prashant Bhushan, the other plea was filed by Advocate M L Sharma.

On January 20, the Centre ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the documentary with officials saying it has been found to be “undermining the sovereignty and integrity of India” and has “the potential to adversely impact” the country’s “friendly relations with foreign states” and “public order within the country”.

The documentary focuses on Modi’s and his then-state government’s response to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Sharma’s PIL sought quashing of the January 20 order claiming it is “illegal, malafide, arbitrary and unconstitutional.”

It wanted the court to examine the documentary and act against persons who were, directly and indirectly, responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The related petition points out that Bhushan and Moitra had tweeted about the documentary on January 19 and January 22, respectively, sharing links to the URLs where it could be found.

However, it said, Bhushan’s tweet was blocked and the link to the URL shared by Moitra was removed after the January 20 direction issued by the Secretary, of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry.

The petitioners in the related plea said the Government has not officially placed any document/ order or any other information in the public domain “which explains the reasons for the need to exercise its emergency powers… rather than any other mechanism provided in the rules”.

It said the Ministry “has chosen expediency over necessity and proportionality in their response to the documentary”.

It said the “contents of the BBC Documentary and the tweets by” Bhushan and Moitra are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. “…the contents of the documentary series do not fall under any of the restrictions specified in Article 19(2) or restrictions imposed under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000”, it said.

The petitioners contended that the Supreme Court had in the past “categorically laid down that criticism of the Government or its policies or even the judgment of the Supreme Court…does not tantamount to violating the sovereignty and integrity of India”.

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