Amid row over BBC documentary on Modi, US reiterates support for free press in India

It is high time to highlight the importance of democratic principles like freedom of expression and make it a point around the world as well as in India, it has said

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NH Digital

When asked about India banning the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US State Department said that it is high time to highlight the importance of democratic principles like freedom of expression and make it a point around the world as well as in India.

Speaking to reporters, Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said, “We continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, as human rights that contribute to the strengthening of our democracies. This is a point we make in our relationships around the world. It’s certainly a point we’ve made in India as well.”

The US had distanced itself from the BBC's controversial series on PM Modi, saying it's not familiar with the documentary, but very familiar with the shared values that connects Washington and New Delhi as two thriving, vibrant democracies.

The controversial two-part BBC series, titled "India: The Modi Question" has claimed that it investigated certain aspects relating to the 2002 Gujarat riots when Prime Minister Modi was the chief minister of the state.

Responding to questions raised by a Pakistani journalist, Price on Monday told reporters that Washington shares an "exceptionally deep partnership” with New Delhi based on values that are common to both the US and Indian democracies.

The take down of the documentary has raised alarm on press freedom in India globally. The International Press Institute (IPI) on Wednesday expressed concern "regarding authorities invoking emergency laws to block the documentary, saying that the country’s 2021 IT Rules allow the government “expansive and unchecked powers” to control and censor online content and news outlets.

“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, the IPI Director of Advocacy.

“We urge private platforms to continue to push back against the Modi government’s overly broad and unjustified censorship demands,” she continued. “Online platforms must ensure that their compliance with such demands does not aid the government’s ongoing campaign to silence critics, journalists, and activists in India.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that ordering social media platforms to block the documentary constitutes “an attack on the free press that flagrantly contradicts the country’s stated commitment to democratic ideals.”

Reports The Guardian, "The decision to block the documentary comes amid an increasingly challenging environment for media and freedom of the press under the Modi government, with critical journalists and media subjected to state and judicial harassment. Last year, India slipped eight places in the press freedom index to 150 out of 180 counties, its worst position on record."

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