Censorship of BBC Documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ Stokes International Debate

NEW YORK, March 5, 2015—The Indian government’s censorship of a documentary film about rape is a worrying attempt to restrict free expression on a key issue in the public interest, PEN American Center said in a statement today.

Made by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, India’s Daughter focuses on the brutal rape and murder in December 2012 of Jyoti Singh, an aspiring medical student in Delhi. The film includes extensive footage and interviews with members of her family, the rapists and their defense lawyers, and others, with the aim of examining widely held attitudes toward women in India. Originally scheduled to air by the BBC and NDTV on March 8—International Women’s Day—its transmission was brought forward by the BBC, where the film aired in the U.K. on Wednesday, March 4.

On Tuesday, an Indian court order had banned national channels from airing the documentary. Earlier today, government agencies ordered YouTube to remove access to the film after the BBC made it available on the Storyville website. Commentators have complained that the film portrays India in a negative light and might be interpreted to legitimize blame for rape victims, among other concerns. YouTube has reportedly complied with the order, blocking access from within India to specific URLs as required by India’s Information Technology Act, which legalizes the censorship of Internet content.

“The Indian government’s attempt to suppress this film has precisely backfired, provoking an even broader domestic and global debate on the complex questions it raises,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “Though it is perfectly fair to debate the merits of the film and to sound an alarm over how its content may be misconstrued, members of the public who choose to view the film should be free to do so and form their own opinions on the vital issues it raises. If people disagree with the message of the film, they can refute it or even condemn it, but not insist that it be banned.”

PEN American Center urges YouTube and all other affected media outlets in India to make the documentary as freely available as possible and to challenge the Indian court’s unwarranted restriction, which is inconsistent with the country’s own domestic legal protections for free expression, as well as with its international obligations to uphold freedom of speech.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director: snossel@pen.org, (646) 779.4811
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: sedkins@pen.org, (646) 779.4830