Net Control by India


Fascinating, isn’t it ?

I thought only autocratic regimes will impose free speech controls on their citizens, but last week India tried to do so and in the process created lot of turmoil amongst the educated netizens of India.

But, I thought about the matter in some depth instead of quickly jumping in to attack the censorship kind of self-regulation proposed by the Indian Government’s Telecom Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal.

I also read what was written about in various newspapers and saw the attack in the TV media. I did not see one positive remark.

Not surprising, isn’t it ?

But thinking more incisively, what the Minister was trying to communicate was quite reasonable. The internet should be used responsibly and not used to attack or defame people. While such attacks cannot be censored, expressing anguish in itself is no cause for a reverse attack on the Government. The Minister was asking Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Google to take care and ensure that racially or religiously divisive comments are not thrown at the unsuspecting population via the internet medium. The respective companies of course refused.

The Minister concluded that the Government has to introduce its own mechanisms to control the divisive and dangerous expressions being aired on the internet so freely.

I do not completely disagree with him.

In many developed countries, child pornography and incitement to terrorism are punishable, and there have been many cases in which the respective governments have won cases in Courts of Law. India does not unfortunately have advanced laws, such as laws to control the abuse of free expression. I do not think it is out of the way to start thinking about the damage caused by free, uncontrolled, insensitive, irresponsible and harmful comments on the internet and TV/print media. In fact, the Harvard University showed their hand when the faculty council decided to disallow Mr Subramanian Swamy to teach two of his economics courses in summer due to the vituperative article he wrote in the DNA newspaper a few months ago against Muslims.

So, what are we trying to do here ? It is critically important to respect race, religion, community and colour in all communications. Internet cannot be an exception. I have been running a blog for more than 5 years now, and have I ever been tempted to do anything of that sort ? No and it will never be done. We cannot allow the harmful impact of one blogger to affect an otherwise peaceful population. There is no individual judgement call here. This is an important matter requiring considered discussion and we need to provide space for that discussion instead of trying to banish the whole thought outright.

Let us think carefully regarding what the Minister said. He is not propagating the idea of censorship. Some self regulation is called for, and if that is not forthcoming, it is important to take some kind of action. We cannot just site there and accept whatever is written to harm an entire community.

Let us not lose our sense of proportion and magnanimity. Let us respect each other. Let us not harm each other. Are these things too much to ask ?

I fully support the Minister’s views and if he has an impending action plan, I would like to see and comment on that.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
10th December 2011
Mumbai

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