Remark against Rajiv Gandhi in Sacred Games: Centre underlines freedom of speech

The first season of Sacred Games, starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, was released on July 6 and was available in 190 countries in four languages.
Underscoring the importance of the freedom of thought and expression, the Centre told the Delhi High Court on Friday that it cannot ask service providers to remove an allegedly objectionable word against former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi used in the Netflix series Sacred Games.

In an affidavit to the HC, which is hearing a plea alleging that certain scenes in the show defamed the late Congress leader, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said: “That it is humbly submitted that the Preamble of the Constitution of India inter alia speaks of liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. It also says that India is a sovereign, democratic republic. The liberty of thought and expression is a cardinal value that is of paramount significance under our Constitutional scheme.”

The plea filed by advocate Nikhil Bhalla, seeks directions to Netflix Entertainment, the show’s producer, Phantom Films Production Ltd and the Centre to ensure “in toto” removal of the allegedly offensive scenes. The first season of Sacred Games, starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, was released on July 6 and was available in 190 countries in four languages, the petition said.

MeitY told a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Anup Jairam Bhambhani that the Supreme Court, in various judgements, has referred to the “importance of freedom of speech and expression both from the point of view of liberty of the individual and from the point of view of our democratic form of government”.

“The answering respondent (MeitY) strictly follows the mandate of the Constitution as well as the laws as declared by the Supreme Court of India whereby it has held that freedom of speech and expression of opinion is of paramount importance under a democratic Constitution which envisages changes in the composition of legislatures and government and must be preserved,” the affidavit filed by MeitY’s counsel Rajesh Gogna said.

Referring to the apex court ruling, the Ministry further said that the freedom of speech and of the press is the “Ark of the Covenant of Democracy public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions.”It said that the importance of freedom of speech and expression though not absolute was necessary as we need to tolerate unpopular views.

The Ministry also refused to set up a grievance redressal mechanism to specifically deal with grievances related to ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) media services providers operating in India.

It said, “The relief sought by the petitioner should not be granted as any order directing the answering respondent to regulate the service providers by setting up a grievance redressal mechanism to deal with the grievances against the ‘Over-the-top’ (OTT) shall be in violation of the mandate of the Constitution as well as the law as declared by the Supreme Court of India.”

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