NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has issued a fresh notice to the BBC on a defamation suit filed by an Ahmedabad-based trust seeking Rs 10,000 Cr damages for its two parts documentary “India: The Modi Question” for allegedly casting slur on India's reputation and its Prime Minister and the judiciary.
A bench of Justice Sachin Datta sought a response from the public broadcaster of the United Kingdom on a suit filed by NGO 'Justice on Trial', claiming "false and scurrilous allegations that are aired do not even have a fig leaf of journalistic neutrality and reporting of facts."
On September 25, the court was informed by the NGO's counsel that the notice issued earlier in May could not be served upon the respondents.
The court, after issuing the notice, put the matter for hearing on December 15, 2023.
The NGO claimed "false and scurrilous allegations which were aired do not even have a fig leaf of journalistic neutrality and reporting of facts."
The plaintiff contended that the conduct of the respondents is actionable and has made them liable to damages. It said the whole system, the Constitutional network, including India’s judicial system, has been defamed.
The two part documentary were aired on January 17 and 24, 2023. "These videos remain accessible on the internet notwithstanding the blocking orders issued by the Government of India and are in fact being accessed across the territory of India even on the present date and are being published and republished on a continuing basis and have not been withdrawn," it claimed.
The plaintiff contended that the said documentary/publication contained content which casts a slur on the reputation of the country and also made false and defamatory imputations and insinuations against the Prime Minister of India, the Indian Judiciary and the Indian criminal justice system.
Among others, plea said, the first part carried an interview of a UK citizen of Indian origin, claiming the impression sought to be conveyed is that British citizens cannot not get justice in India and that the judicial system of the country is "corrupt, majoritarian, and broken".
It contended the governmental and judicial response to the 2002 riots has been to ensure that the rule of law has been brought to bear on all persons involved, regardless of their status or position.
However, "the documentary does not even attempt to present these facts in an objective manner. Rather, the intent and purpose appears to be only to revive and repackage allegations that have not withstood judicial scrutiny and present these half-truths and outright falsehoods as irrefutable fact," it claimed.
In the case of 2002 riots, the Supreme Court entertained petitions and took upon itself to see that a free and fair investigation was conducted under an independent SIT whose officers were appointed by judicial orders and whose functioning was closely overseen by the top court itself, the plea stated.
On January 21, 2023, the Centre had invoked rule 16 of IT rule 2021 and prohibited citizen of India from watching BBC documentary related to Gujarat riots of 2002. The government has contended the documentary was a "propaganda piece designed to push a discredited narrative" and a reflection of the “colonial mindset”.
The plaintiff moved the HC in a “suit for damages”, under Order 33 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) “seeking permission to file as an indigent person”.
The HC order had recorded that 'Justice For All' is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act and is also registered as a public trust under the provisions of the Bombay Public Trust.