India Denies Pre-screening Censorship Allegations


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Last week we brought you news that by Indian minister of telecommunications Kapil Sibal had been meeting with executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo and asking them to pre-screen and remove content that his office regarded as offensive or inappropriate.

The news, which was initially reported by the New York Times, created a massive controversy across the internet. Google and Facebook responded by releasing statements that they would continue to enforce their terms of service and remove content that was illegal, but that they would not go further. Meanwhile, Minister Sibal held a press conference in which he denied that he was advocating political censorship, but rather that he was attempting to protect the religious sensibilities of the people of India.

On Friday Sibal gave an interview with Karan Thapar New Dehli’s NDTV, in which he again denied that he was requesting political censorship. He insisted that the nature of his office’s requests have been grossly misinterpreted. When asked about the images he had shown to executives from the companies as examples of the kind of content he wanted removed, he insists that they agreed that it was innappropriate, and that they “said that none of this content should be on the site.” He also says that as a part of those meetings, “they agreed, by and large orally, to a certain number of things,” and that after the meetings they delayed in fulfilling the agreements they had made.

He also expressed frustration with the initial New York Times piece. He complained that the paper had made no attempts to contact his office for comment, which is unusual for an organization of the Times’ stature. The Times, which posted a response early this morning, takes issue with that claim. They note that the original article cited confirmation from his office that the meetings would take place, and go on to list the names of three people in Sibal’s office with whom they either spoke or attempted to speak.

Sibal also reiterated that his office’s request focused primarily on content that he believed would offend religious sensibilities. He never quite denies in the interview that, as the Times reports, his office showed the executives a Facebook page satirizing Congress president Sonia Ghandi. He does, however, insist that the images with which he confronted the companies were “mostly religious.” He went on to say that “these [images] are all pornographic, these are all unacceptable content with respect to gods and goddesses of various religions which if they were in the public domain would created problems.”

When asked if political satire was among the kinds of content he wanted removed, he said, “I would welcome satirical references to political leaders as part of freedom of expression.”