During a debate on the freedom of Social Media (March 23), where Corporate Affairs minister Sachin Pilot and BJP's senior leader Ravi Shankar Prasad also participated, the key speaker appears to have been Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid. See Rediff report. Here’s what Khurshid had to say:
“Social media is effective today because we are equal. It is the equality of social media and your ability to manipulate and use technology that gives you the freedom -- a freedom which then, perhaps, needs to be regulated. It needs to be regulated because every freedom has to be regulated" and he adds “Please read the Constitution and if you are a true Indian, please bow to the Constitution which says reasonable restriction on all your freedom - on your freedom of speech, freedom of work, freedom of action”.
The UPA has so far already made many restrictions by stringent laws in attempting to curb social media. They have gone as far as making even hitting the “Like” buttons punishable by law. As draconian a section as 66A has been used to arrest cartoonists and ordinary folks content that have upset some politicians. Khurshid even speaks of an “Equal opportunities commission” although it’s not clear if that was in relevance to social media or a general statement. Here’s the problem though. The govt seems unwilling or not necessary to first look into and revamp the existing regulatory bodies. The PCI Chairman appears to be more busy in making legal appeals and political statements rather than improving the functioning of the PCI or the print media.
Contrary to fear-mongering that SM may cause communal riots or violence on the streets there has not been a single instance where content from SM has led to any such incident. The closest that comes to mind are the Azad Maidan riots of August 2012 and those had little to do with SM. People on the ground used morphed images to provoke protesters in to violence. And yet, SM seems to the high priority for controls. In the other case of violence over a Facebook post it was members of a political party who indulged in violence and not ordinary people from the SM or the ground.
As for the Congress party itself, having realised it’s better to deal with the SM productively instead of a constant conflict they decided to make a major investment to enhance their image on the SM. Many sites have been blocked, banned or selectively blocked by govt ISPs without assigning reasons or without a process for appeal or reversals. This blog was blocked for a month by BSNL in July 2012 without assigning any reason. Then they lifted the block on their own. The number of requests to Google and others to remove content or block sites are one of the highest in India.
The best part of the story is that there is yet no regulatory body or watchdog for the Television media. The news channels have an absolute free run in their conduct and airing of content. What they have is a “union” which is neither a statutory body (like the PCI) nor a watch dog. This Union called the “NBA” acts more as a censor and makes decisions of what to telecast and not to telecast on behalf of its members. They collectively make these decisions which the members accept and follow. The other body they have created for themselves is the Indian Broadcasting Foundation. If you take a look at the list of people heading this body it would be absolutely clear that these are the same people from some media form or the other. In short, this too is a body for protection of the media groups and not so much the consumers. The IBF has not even published a full list of its members. That’s how transparent they are. It’s only the SM that is currently acting as an unofficial watchdog.
There is a shocking incident of actress Deepti Naval being maligned with sensational headlines by some newspapers and news sites. For a minor quarrel with residents of her society over some interview recording, the newspapers misused conversation with the actress to create horrible headlines to imply Deepti Naval was in some prostitution racket. It is the PCI Chairman’s job to take cognisance of such spurious reporting and invoke harsh punishment for the culprits. It remains to be seen what he or the PCI does.
In the meantime more attempts will be made to curb the freedoms of social media which is relatively far less harmless. They have already made many botched attempts to do so. While the opinions of the speakers are being passed of “Personal opinions” these same opinion do go into making laws. That even the Opposition hadn’t challenged the provisions of 66A is an indication how politicians become a “family” in making such laws. All this comes not so much out of concern for “regulating” freedom but gently creating and moulding opinions for more gagging of SM.