Internet Regulation Debate Back in the Forefront

JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav has called for a temporary ban on social networking sites to stop the spread of retaliatory violence in the country in the wake of the ethnic clashes in Assam. There is not even a remote possibility of the Central Government taking such a step because banning a social networking site like Facebook even for a day would lead to an outcry of astounding nature but what is interesting to note over here is that these unfortunate incidents have reignited the debate surrounding internet regulation.

The same set of people who stonewalled Kapil Sibal’s attempt to do internet patrolling are now calling for substantial steps to be taken in the direction of content-control in the virtual world. I have always been supportive of the idea because there is not even a single country on the face of the Earth which gives its citizens the absolute right of the freedom of speech and expression. No matter how fundamental this right might be but it can always be curtailed to contain tricky situations which might lead to violent clashes and bloodbaths. Last year’s London riots bear testimony as to how technology is used to spread mischief and rioting and the Indian experience this year is no different. The internet serves as the ultimate platform for rumour mongering propagandists and fundamentalist forces. The emotional-exaggerated messages put up by such people have a readymade audience suffering from societal anxiety and hidden heartache. Governments across the globe might shy away from patrolling the internet today fearing a stubborn backlash from internet giants but ten years down the line this would become an utmost certainty.

Educational Reforms should not be Implemented Undemocratically

Our country definitely stands in need of educational perestroika but that has to be achieved by means of glasnost and transparency. The Union HRD Ministry led by Kapil Sibal cannot force educational institutions to tap into submission to accept their ‘reforms agenda’.

The teaching fraternity and the students need to be taken into confidence before initiating the process of overhauling and revamping the educational system. The current standoff between Delhi University’s Vice Chancellor and the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) is because of the lack of a democratic dialogue process. DUTA has alleged that they became acquainted of certain reform measures through the media when the VC issued a statement to the press without consulting the Academic or Executive Council. DUTA claims that this was done at the behest of the HRD Ministry whose diktats the top officials seem to be following.

DU happens to be the numero-uno university in India with a whole galaxy of magnetic academicians. If the academicians of DU are not being consulted before decision making then we cannot even imagine the fate of teachers teaching in other higher educational institutes of India. They must not be enjoying the privilege of raising their voice even at the slightest level. What we must realize is the fact that perestroika can be effective only when it is democratic and not dictatorial in nature. The teaching faculty isn’t perpetually opposed to the idea of perestroika, it is just that certain apprehensions of them need to be addressed and they need to be taken onboard before kickstarting the reform process.

Internet Regulation

The Congress led UPA Government was once again at the receiving end today as news broke regarding the move made by Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal instructing internet giants like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to screen content and block all objectionable comments before they are posted online.

A whole galaxy of independent India’s tech-savvy netizens expressed their dissent by terming the Government’s move as a direct assault on the Freedom of Speech & Expression (Freedom of Press is a sub part of the same article which guarantees Freedom of Speech & Expression). What I fail to realize is why is the UPA Government being punished for enforcing the Constitution and upholding the supremacy of its laws? In a country governed by constitutionalism, we need to realize that not even a single right guaranteed to us is absolute in nature, they’re subject to certain riders and limitations so that they don’t go against sovereignty of the state, security, public order, morality, decency, communal harmony, friendly foreign relations against other countries etc.

In the past few decades the media has evolved as a highly powerful industry and is striving hard to move towards development journalism which is centered on problems faced by the common masses. New Media comprising of the internet and its byproducts like social networking sites have also become a very pivotal part of today’s media. Nobody can deny the kind of penultimate role played by social networking sites specially Facebook in organizing protests during the Arab Spring. The kind of influence generated by the media is so immense that accountability becomes a must. All broadcasting channels, newspapers, magazines etc follow a set of rules and regulations. They are free to criticize the government but they can’t use derogatory or abusive language against them. They are free to report on any issue but they are not allowed to air anything which hurts the sentiments of a considerable amount of people. If they violate any of the mentioned rules and regulations then they are booked.

The Government is doing nothing apart from inculcating discipline and content regulation within sites on the internet. We are all aware of the existing hate groups on such sites and the kind of perverted slogans and pictures they’re home to. No media channel, newspaper or magazine can air or post such things and now since the internet is a part of the media, as a new media platform it has to share the same responsibilities. I know that the idea of manually screening every post before its goes online is devoid of logic and realism but there is no denying of the fact that there needs to be an effective mechanism to counter and expunge derogatory content. The government is not stopping anybody from expressing opprobrium, it’s just wanting to eliminate derogatory, defamatory, vulgar, abusive and unacceptable content from the internet. If the government would have wanted to stop citizens from speaking against the government it would have resorted to rigid censoring. It isn’t doing that. It has just instructed internet giants to screen content before it’s posted and they have the liberty of developing a way of doing that and this is what is self regulation. We have various options of reporting objectionable content to the site owners but as responsible citizens it is also the duty of site owners to keep a check on the content which is being posted on their website. I find nothing objectionable in this. All units of the media industry do this be it electronic or print and now the internet needs to follow in their footsteps.