The Indian government invoked its emergency powers to order social media platforms YouTube and Twitter to remove links to the BBC documentary that reviewed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The instructions were issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Friday, invoking powers under the IT Rules 2021.
One of them is the 2021 IT Rules, which in Section 16 allow content to be blocked in emergencies. The other is Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000 which allows the Indian government to block content “in the interest of India’s sovereignty and integrity.”
The latest move by the Union government sparked a heated debate as it is the first time IT rules have been invoked to target a major international broadcaster. The Union government had in the past asked YouTube to remove accounts for spreading disinformation.
Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said that both Twitter and YouTube complied with the removal of such links.
“The directions to block content from BBCWorld’s vicious propaganda were issued by the Secretary, I&B, on Friday using the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021. Both YouTube and Twitter have complied with the directions of the Governments in India,” Kanchan Gupta posted on Twitter.
What is Rule 16 of IT Rules, 2021?
Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2021, formally known as the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Code of Ethics) Rules, 2021, notified in 2021, outlines the government’s power with respect to “Blocking information in case of emergency.
The Rule states that “In case of an emergency, the Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may, if he is convinced that it is necessary or convenient and justifiable, block public access to any information or part of it through any resource information technology and… a precautionary measure will issue the instructions it deems necessary to the identified or identifiable persons, editors or intermediaries who control said information resource that houses said information or part of it without giving them the opportunity to listen”.
Action may be brought if the identified content falls within the criteria mentioned in subsection (1) of Section 69A of the Information Technology Act on blocking public access to any information through a “computer resource”.
“The authorized official, no later than but not later than forty-eight hours after the issuance of the order pursuant to sub-rule (2), will submit the request to the Committee for its consideration and recommendation,” the rules specify.
How many times govt. invoked emergency powers?
Back in 2021 when farmers’ protest was going on across the country, At the request of the central government, Twitter withheld two accounts that had been active on behalf of farmers during protests against farm laws.
In another case, After the independence from the Britishers, the Nehru government banned the book Nine Hours to Rama, a fictional account of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, as well as the film based on it, the story of its censorship still relevant.
The Indian government banned the book months after it was published in London. A further clarification the next day said that the book’s ban also involved “possession, buying and selling of copies of the book already imported under a ban.”
In another case of censorship of power, in 1975, then-President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared a state of emergency in India.” Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties – freedom of the press among other things and the Constitution was amended and altered.
“The President has proclaimed an Emergency. There is nothing to be afraid of,” Indira Gandhi declared on All India Radio. Indira Gandhi’s government set out some ground rules for journalists across the country and informed them of certain “guidelines” to follow.
The Narendra Modi government ordered the blocking of more than 9,849 URLs in 2020 alone. The government blocked 500 URLs in 2015, 633 URLs in 2016, 1,385 in 2017, 2,799 in 2018, and 3,635 in 2019.
The number saw a sharp increase in 2020, when the government blocked 9,849 URLs. The government also noted that the URLs were blocked under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000.
Opposition, experts say censorship
Opposition leaders such as Mahua Moitra and TMC’s Derek O’Brien have criticized the government for the crackdown. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the decision to block links to the documentary on YouTube and Twitter amounted to “censorship.”
In the meantime, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has urged the Authorized Official to comply with the condition of Rule 16(3) and ensure that the ban request is brought before a Review Committee. They have also asked the Review Committee to make its findings public.
The International Press Institute (IPI) expressed “alarm” over authorities invoking emergency laws to block the documentary, saying the country’s 2021 IT Rules allow the government “broad and unchecked powers ” to control and censor online content and media.
“The Modi government is clearly abusing emergency powers under the IT Rules to punish or restrict any and all criticism of its policies,” said Amy Brouillette, IPI’s director of advocacy.
- Why BBC documentary trailer on Narendra Modi pulled down?
- What does the BBC documentary episode two say about PM Modi?
Follow Ground Report for Climate Change and Under-Reported issues in India. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Koo App, Instagram, Whatsapp and YouTube. Write us at GReport2018@gmail.com.