Hotstar blocks John Oliver show critical of PM Modi

  • Oliver was previewing US President Donald Trump’s visit to India on the show
  • On his maiden visit to India this week, Trump was accosted with questions on controversial CAA

Lata Jha
Updated26 Feb 2020, 01:22 PM IST
Oliver was previewing US President Donald Trump’s visit to India on the show which typically airs at 6 am each Tuesday
Oliver was previewing US President Donald Trump’s visit to India on the show which typically airs at 6 am each Tuesday

Disney India has blocked an episode of English-American writer and comedian John Oliver’s HBO series Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that criticized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on video streaming platform Hotstar.

Oliver was previewing US President Donald Trump’s visit to India on the show which typically airs at 6 a.m. each Tuesday. When subscribers logged in on 25 February, they could only find older episodes, Bloomberg first reported.

Walt Disney had acquired Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. in a $71 billion cash and stock deal in June 2018. That makes Star India, Fox Star Studios and Hotstar in India, a part of Walt Disney. Hotstar did not respond to Mint’s queries.

On his maiden visit to India this week, Trump was accosted with questions on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act in the country, protests against which erupted in north east Delhi while the US President and First Lady Melania Trump landed in the national capital.

“While Modi may have charmed Bear Grylls (the PM shot an episode of Grylls’ show Man vs Wild last year), the world, and our current president, in India he is an increasingly controversial figure because his government has pursued a steadily escalating persecution of religious minorities,” Oliver said in the episode, according to the Bloomberg report. “The only glimmer of hope here is that for perhaps the first time in Modi’s whole career, his actions are creating a massive and sustained backlash.”

There have been instances of video streaming services taking content down in the past. Amazon had removed an episode of the CBS show Madam Secretary that had references to Hindu nationalism and Hindu extremists in India-occupied Kashmir, while Netflix had removed an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act series in Saudi Arania that criticized the kingdom’s crown prince.

In India, however, censorship on digital services still remains a grey area. The ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) has continually emphasized on the need for self-regulation by these platforms while players like Hotstar, VOOT, SonyLIV and Reliance Jio have signed up for an upcoming code under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) to allow for a complaints redressal mechanism through a Digital Curated Content Complaints Council (DCCCC) that consumers can go to, if their grievances are not addressed by the platform owners.

Last year, a couple of web shows had raised concerns in the corridors of power. These included Leila on Netflix that hinted directly at the repercussions of right-wing Hindu fundamentalism and the kind of dystopian society it could create, and Gandii Baat on ALTBalaji that featured erotic-themed stories from rural India.

Social commentators were quick to respond to the controversial episode.

“I honestly don't care whether you thought the John Oliver episode on Modi was accurate or fair. I'm just happy there's at least one comedian that this govt can't access. Now waiting for Bhakts to boycott Oliver Twist,” stand-up comic Vir Das tweeted.


“A good example of how illiberal regimes can generate pressure for private-sector self-censorship. "An episode of John Oliver’s show that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been blocked in India by Hotstar, the local platform run by Walt Disney Co,” journalist Shashank Joshi tweeted.

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First Published:26 Feb 2020, 01:22 PM IST
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