New Delhi: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called the Union government’s order to block a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi an “attack on the free press” and asked the authorities to withdraw regulations under the IT Act that “imperil press freedom and freedom of expression online”.
“The Indian government’s order to social media platforms to block a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an attack on the free press that flagrantly contradicts the country’s stated commitment to democratic ideals,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in a statement.
“Authorities must immediately restore full and unrestricted access to the documentary and withdraw regulations under the Information Technology Act that imperil press freedom and freedom of expression online,” the statement read.
On January 20, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the first episode of the two-part BBC documentary, tilted ‘India: The Modi Question‘, which probed Prime Minister Modi’s alleged complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence, according to news reports.
A day before that, the foreign ministry had slammed the BBC series as a “propaganda piece with bias”, designed to push a particular discredited narrative, that shouldn’t be “dignified” with a response.
However, in a statement, BBC said its film was ‘rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards’ and that the Indian government did not respond when it was offered the chance to.
Clips of the documentary, which did not air in India, have been shared widely on social media.
At least 50 tweets, including posts by opposition leaders, activists and journalists, carrying a link to the BBC documentary were censored by the government. The ministry cited Rule 16(3) of the IT Rules [PDF] and Section 69(A) of IT Act, 2000 to ask social media platforms for removal of the posts.
Opposition parties have slammed the move as “censorship’, and protested by re-posting the link to the documentary which can still be accessed via a VPN.
CPJ emailed Google, Twitter, and the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for comment, but did not receive any replies.