Last evening when I read that the Indian government wants to censor the new media, believe me I wasn’t at all surprised.
According to the New York Times, top officials from the Indian units of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook met Kapil Sibal, India’s acting telecommunication minister, on Monday afternoon to discuss the issue. The issue has been doing the rounds and the two big questions that arise in democratic India today is: i) Can the government kill the freedom of expression in a democracy and ii) Even if it is agreed upon, how effectively can it be done.
Why it is being done
2011 has been the year of people’s power against ruthless governments all over the globe. Whether it be the uproar from the Tahir Square that shook the pillars of Egyptian rules to bring down the autocrat leader General Gaddafi or the London riots. Public anger was always there but I believe that it was technology that aided their anger. But as they say there are two sides to any power and the negative powers were witnessed during the London Riots. Technology was used but in a way one wouldn’t expect to happen. Back home we saw the biggest movement after Independence, The Anna movement. Anna went on to fast in the Ramlila grounds with thousands of people supporting him and many more joined in their cities. The movement was a big blow to the government and the corrupt politicians first time witnessed how people were supporting it without any incentive. The movement was further accelerated by ‘India Against Corruption’ who started a campaign way before the movement but the government wasn’t paying heed to it then. Personally, I had supported the movement and got all the information about the meets, processions, gatherings, etc. by the power of social media. Like me thousands of Indians followed the web presence of India Against Corruption. It was only when the movement ended with the government bending down to consider Anna’s Janlokpal Bill that it actually realized its helplessness before the powers of people’s media.
So is the government now trying to solve their helplessness in two ways:
1. By creating its own social media presence.
2. By regulating the content that is objectionable to the government.
The government does have a social media presence but then it really needs to pull up its socks. The Facebook pages are nothing more than a collective junkyard of links. However, the social media draft that was recently published has been a good move by the government.
Regulation of content or pre-screening of content before they are published kills the freedom of expression and near to impossible task for companies to manage. To top it, the government also wants companies like Google, Facebook, etc. to monitor content by humans and not by technology. This is going to be a challenge for internet companies working in India to a) decide on what is objectionable and what is not and b) set up a workforce to track them. Also the government is not depending on the internet companies but it has decided to set up its own unit to monitor content posted on websites and social media sites.
As of now, no internet company except Facebook has made any statement in terms of the talks that had happened on Monday with the department. Additionally, it would be interesting to see what would be Yahoo’s response which has already challenged Indian government’s fine of R11 lakh that had been imposed because Yahoo refused to share profile details of certain email id’s. I believe that freedom of expression shouldn’t be suppressed in a way to meet individual needs and wants and especially so in a democracy.
Perhaps the coming times would give a clearer picture on this and hopefully we would know where we are headed to!
Picture Courtesy: David Icke