Fresh PIL in SC against Centre’s decision to block BBC documentary

NEW DELHI, 16 Feb: A fresh PIL was filed on Thursday in the Supreme Court, challenging the Centre’s decision to block a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The top court is already seized of two pleas filed by veteran journalist N Ram, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan and lawyer ML Sharma on the issue.

On 3 February, a bench comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh had taken note of the two pleas and directed the central government to produce original records related to its decision to block the documentary on the riots. The matters are now listed for hearing in April.

The fresh third plea has been filed by Mukesh Kumar, who claims to be a social worker, through lawyers Roopesh Singh Bhadauria and Mareesh Pravir Sahay. Lawyer Bhadauria also heads the legal cell of the Indian Youth Congress. The plea has sought quashing of the “impugned notification dated January 20, 2023 passed by the Ministry of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.”

Besides, it has sought a direction to the central government to ensure screening of the documentary “without any law and order issue.”

“The impugned office order/notification has been issued in the most unlawful, arbitrary manner with utter non-application of mind.

The same is unconstitutional on the face of it as it violates Articles 19 (1) (2) (freedom of speech and expression), 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution,” it said.

The blocking of the documentary infringes the freedom of speech and expression, the right to opinion and public dialogue, discussion, debate and discourse, it said. The plea also raised the issue of independence and security of the press and referred to the ongoing income tax “surveys” at BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Earlier, N Ram and others had sought a direction to restrain the government from curbing their right to “receive and disseminate information” on the documentary.

“All citizens, including the press, have the fundamental right to view, form an informed opinion, critique, report on, and lawfully circulate the contents of the documentary as the right to freedom of speech and expression incorporates the right to receive and disseminate information…,” their plea said, and referred to several apex court orders on freedom of speech and expression.

The petition has also sought quashing of “all orders directly or indirectly censoring” the information, including those shared on social media.

The plea, which has made Twitter Communications India Private Ltd and Google India the parties, has also sought a direction for restoration of the tweets made by the petitioners. (PTI)