The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Centre and sought a report within three weeks over an appeal against blocking a controversial BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and allegations linked to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The Supreme Court asked for the original record of the order to take down the documentary from the public domain.
The court acted on a petition by veteran journalist N Ram, activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, asking that the Centre be stopped from censoring the documentary.
The petitions challenge the use of emergency powers to block the documentary and remove links from social media. The Centre never formally publicised the blocking order, said a separate petition by lawyer ML Sharma calling the ban on the two-part documentary “malafide, arbitrary, and unconstitutional”.
On January 21, the Centre, using emergency provisions under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the controversial documentary “India: The Modi Question”.
The petitioners said the rules require that the Centre publish the emergency blocking orders within 48 hours.
After the ban, the two-part BBC series has been shared by various opposition leaders, including Mahua Moitra, and students’ organisations and opposition parties have organised public screenings.
Students clashed with college authorities and the police in several campuses after not being allowed to hold screenings, some were briefly detained as well.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry told Twitter and YouTube to block the first episode of the BBC documentary, reports said after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak distanced himself from the series, saying he “doesn’t agree with the characterisation” of his Indian counterpart in the UK’s parliament by Pakistan-origin MP Imran Hussain.
The government has called the documentary a “propaganda piece” that lacks objectivity and reflects a colonial mindset.
A Supreme Court-appointed investigation had found no evidence of wrongdoing by PM Modi, who was Chief Minister of Gujarat when riots broke out across the state in February 2002.