New Delhi: Twitter owner Elon Musk, interviewed by the BBC early on April 12, said that he was likely to comply with the blocking orders issued by the Indian government instead of facing a situation where Twitter employees were being sent to jail.
The interview – which BBC said came only with a few hours’ notice – saw BBC’s James Clayton ask Musk questions on his decision to purchase the social media giant, his controversial takes on Twitter policy since then, and his decision to add a ‘government-funded media’ tag to BBC and America’s NPR. On the latter, Musk promised to change both to ‘publicly-funded’.
The interview was confrontational, with Musk often evading questions. It was broadcast on Twitter Spaces, leading to a large audience.
At one point, Clayton asks, “Let’s talk about something else. Narendra Modi. The BBC did a documentary about Narendra Modi and his leadership during the riots of Gujarat. We then believe that some of that content was taken off Twitter. Was that at the behest of the Indian government?
“I am not aware of that particular situation,” Musk says.
“So you are not sure?” Clayton asks.
“I don’t know about that, you know, what exactly happened with some content situation in India,” Musk replies.
In January this year, the Narendra Modi government asked both YouTube and Twitter to remove links to the documentary, ‘India: The Modi Question’ which the Union government has likened to “propaganda.” Twitter’s immediate and unquestioning compliance to this order had led to questions.
Musk then tells Clayton: “The rules in India for what can appear on social media are quite strict, and we can’t go beyond the laws of a country.”
“But do you get that if you do that, you can incentivise countries around the world to simply pass more draconian laws,” Clayton asks back.
“No, look, if we have a choice of either our people go to prison, or we comply with the laws, we’ll comply with the laws. Same goes for the BBC,” Musk responds.
Clayton does not ask Musk for a clarification but moves on to a question that led Musk to say that he was not the CEO of Twitter, but that his dog was.
In February, a month after the release of the Modi documentary, Income Tax officials carried out surveys in two BBC offices at New Delhi and Mumbai, allegedly to investigate issues related to international taxation and transfer pricing of BBC subsidiary companies.
Press bodies in India and abroad condemned the raid. The UK government said it was closely monitoring the situation and BBC itself said it was prepared to fully comply.
Although it is unclear whether Musk is in the know, but earlier this month the Modi government notified norms making it obligatory on “intermediaries” – like Twitter – to “not publish, share or host fake, false or misleading information in respect of any business of the Central government”. In what is being identified as a death knell to freedom of speech, a fact-checking unit of the government will now identify what is “fake, false or misleading information”.
Meanwhile, Twitter is also fighting some take down orders issued by the Modi government in June 2022 at the Karnataka high court, which earlier this week rapped the Union government on why it had not given any reasons for blocking some accounts on.