India’s Efforts to Ban Rape Documentary Spur Greater Interest Online

India’s Efforts to Ban Rape Documentary Spur Greater Interest Online
The Nirbhaya gang-rape incident sparked national outrage and sparked off massive protests in Delhi.
NEW DELHI: A British-made documentary about a grisly gang rape in India spread throughout social media on Thursday, gaining a wide audience despite a government ban and thwarting official efforts to block it.

A spokesman for YouTube in India said that the company had agreed to a government request to block channels of multiple users who had uploaded the documentary. The original link posted by the BBC, however, was still available, he said. By Thursday night, the film had been viewed more than 100,000 times from that link, not including viewings from other sources.

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For government regulators, the immediate challenge is to identify and remove links to the film, “India’s Daughter,” that were posted on social media, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, adding that officials from four ministries – overseeing law, broadcasting, information technology and external affairs – “have put their best heads together to find out the best course of action.”

The film set off a furor this week after publicity highlighted its most sensational element: a jailhouse interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the men convicted of the 2012 crime, in which he callously described the rape, and said the victim was to blame for being outside after dark with a male friend.

Indian officials faulted the filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, for giving Singh, who is awaiting execution, a platform for his views. They said the interview was offensive to women and could incite a “law and order problem.” A court issued a restraining order that banned any broadcast of the documentary in India.

“How can you show something so abusive?” the Home Affairs Ministry spokesman said. “Everyone knows that this kind of abuse exists, but to show it in such an explicit manner?”

But critics of the decision pointed out that the government’s ban was backfiring, raising interest in the film rather than tamping it down.

Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of MediaNama, a firm that analyzes digital and telecom businesses in India, said such efforts often did not work. When government censors similarly banned the broadcast of a crude comedy show, viewership spiked.

This phenomenon, which he called “the Streisand effect” – named for Barbra Streisand’s failed effort to suppress an aerial photograph of her home for privacy reasons, which only seemed to stoke interest – was in full force on Thursday.

The government of India is the “best promoter of the rape docu,” Shekhar Gupta, a journalist for India Today, wrote on Twitter.

The BBC showed the documentary Wednesday night despite an appeal from the home minister, Rajnath Singh.

“We had asked not to release the documentary, but BBC still released it,” Singh told NDTV, a news channel. “We will investigate, and the MHA will take action accordingly.”

The last film to provoke a government reaction on this scale was about bloody religious riots that took place in 2002, said Lawrence Liang, a lawyer based in Bangalore, India, who specializes in technology and copyright law. That ban required approval by a censorship board, making it a more straightforward task. Blocking websites, something Indian authorities have done in the past, is simpler than blocking countless links, Liang said.

“How can they block YouTube?” he said.

© 2015, The New York Times News Service


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