In a major development, the Allahabad High Court has restrained Al-Jazeera from releasing its documentary film ‘India….Who lit the Fuse?’ in India during the pendency of a public interest litigation.
The court ordered the Indian government to ensure the film is not broadcast until its contents are examined by authorities, and necessary certification is obtained.
The petition was filed by social activist Sudhir Kumar, who argued the film portrayed a negative and distorted version of facts with the intent of creating disharmony among religious communities.
The court set July 6 as the next date of hearing in the case.
The court also directed the Central government to take appropriate measures to ensure that the film is not allowed to be telecast/broadcast unless its contents are examined by the authorities, duly constituted in law for the purpose, and necessary certification/authorisation is obtained from the competent authority.
The court directed the Central government, state government and Al-Jazeera media networks to file their reply in the case by July 6.
The bench comprising Justice Ashwani Kumar Mishra and Justice Ashutosh Srivastava passed the order in connection with a PIL filed by Sudhir Kumar, a social activist.
According to the petitioner, he said that he had learnt from print and social media reports that the film portrays the Muslim minority of India living with a sense of fear and presents a disruptive narrative creating a sense of public hatred, which is far from the reality.
The counsel for the petitioner pleaded, “The film negatively portrays the political functionaries of the Indian state and projects them as acting detrimental to the interest of minorities. The film purposefully seeks to create a rift between India’s largest religious communities through its disruptive narrative and create a sense of public hatred. The film proposes to publicise distorted version of facts with intent to create disharmony among the citizens of the country who belong to different religions denominations.”
The petitioner also relied on various social media posts commenting upon the film on its pre-release (preview) in some other countries.
The petitioner also raised the apprehension that the telecast of the film in question without adhering to the constitutional and statutory safeguards may result in injuring the public order and thereby the sovereignty and integrity of India.
The court, after hearing the petitioner’s counsel and P.K. Giri, Additional Advocate General for the state government, observed, “Considering the seriousness of allegations made in the writ, which are likely to have far reaching consequences, the petition does require consideration. We are conscious of the fact that the freedom of speech and expression as also the right of broadcast is a fundamental right but it remains subject to the reasonable restrictions imposed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.”
“Considering the evil consequences that are likely to occur on the telecast/broadcast of film in question of its telecast/broadcast, we are of the view that the broadcast/telecast of the film in question be deferred pending consideration of the cause in the present petition. No irreparable injury would otherwise be caused to the fifth respondent if the telecast/broadcast of the film is allowed after required scrutiny of the issues raised in the present petition,” the court added.
The court then observed, “We restrain the fifth respondent from telecasting/broadcasting/releasing the film “India….Who lit the Fuse?” till the issues raised in the present petition are adjudicated after notice to the fifth respondent. We also direct the Central government and the authorities constituted under it, particularly respondent no. 2 to take appropriate measures warranted in law to ensure that the film is not allowed to be telecast/broadcast unless its contents are examined by the authorities, duly constituted in law for the purpose, and necessary certification/authorisation is obtained from the competent authority.”
The court further directed, “The authorities of the Union and the state government are directed to act in aid of above directions and thereby secure social harmony and protect the security and interest of the Indian state.”