Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Indian Blogger as a Journalist, and legal implications

When the Supreme Court of India refused to quash the legal proceedings against a 19 year old blogger from Kerala, Ajith, the decision understandably created a state of panic among bloggers and all of us who enjoy our power to express ourselves fearlessly on websites.

Some might think the days of free-for-all Orkut groups are over. Others will say they are in fear of treading against people with might - the politicians, big business, virtually anyone with an army of lawyers, who, in this case are trying to put fear of appearing in courts for God knows how many times and thus choosing to 'write wisely'.

Sunny Deol's immortal "Tareekh pe Tareekh" from the movie "Damini" comes to mind.

However, I have faith in our Justice system. Bloggers are not going to face a million lawsuits in India.

Ajith chose to blog against the Shiv Sena and in retaliation, the Shiv Sena is suing him for defamation in Maharashtra. When Ajith appealed in the Supreme Court for quashing the case against him, the court refused, saying, "We cannot quash criminal proceedings. You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals. Hence, if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct."

The Supreme Court did not buy into the defense's argument that the content of blog was restricted to a close community and had no defamation value, saying in essence that this was meant to harass a lonely blogger.

You might say the judges ought to have read the blog posts before giving a decision. However, all the court has done is to say that "let the law take its own course and let the Maharashtra High Court look into the matter."

Time has come for bloggers in India to stake their rightful place in the sun. Cases like Ajith indicate that people are listening to what you have to say. Some of these people are afraid.

Those who criticize bloggers say that content on many blogs is malicious or is written unsavory language.
The truth is, bloggers make it possible that for every important issue, there are more than one or two voices.

Bloggers make sure people know about the many sides to a story. In this age of vested interests, media-politician nexus/media-business nexus, bloggers act as a check.

All it takes for an intelligent person to have an open mind and read as much as one can about any issue. [note: The Times of India headline about this story is: "Bloggers can be nailed..." I have seen worse headlines. Call me biased, but I think I can detect dislike for bloggers right there.

In Ajith's case, if the judges look at the blog posts in question, they will see that they are far less harmful, inciting or whatever than the average article in Shiv Sena's newspaper "Samana". If biased and polarizing newspapers run by political parties can exist in this country, why can't a newspaper (a blog) run by a citizen?

"I want freedom for the full expression of my personality." - Mahatma Gandhi

I found these useful lines from a post on 'Freedom of Expression in India' from Wikipedia:

The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees the Freedom of speech and expression, as one of following six freedoms:

The Supreme Court observed in Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms:[9] “Onesided information, disinformation, misinformation and non information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions”.

With the same token Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech under following heads:

* I. security of the State,
* II. friendly relations with foreign States,
* III. public order,
* IV. decency and morality,
* V. contempt of court,
* VI. defamation,
* VII. incitement to an offence, and
* VIII. sovereignty and integrity of India.

The irony is: These restriction apply more to outfits such as the Shiv Sena and all those who take the law in their own hands in name of public morality, and to the mainstream media channels who don't think twice before giving airtime and print space to these people for sake of a couple of point ratings.

More than anything, cases like these create the so-called Streisand effect, "a phenomenon on the Internet where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized”. This derives from a 2003 incident in which the singer Barbra Streisand attempted to use legal process to preserve her privacy, only to see the matter become far more prominent as a result.

We saw the Streisand effect happen in the Indian blogosphere during the Chetan Kunte incident when Barkha Dutt, a mainstream did not particularly like criticism of her Mumbai Terror Attack coverage and sued the blogger. As a result, Barkha Dutt lost a number of viewers and admirers.

These are early days still for law and bloggers.

Read more on Bloggers as Journalists here:
A Simpleguide to Internet and Cyber Laws in India
Can bloggers be journalists? Federal Court says yes
Bloggers and Journalists are now part of a greater whole

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At 3:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a great blogger with good grip over subjects you write upon. By the way would you like to see http://legalenablementofictinindia.blogspot.com/2009/02/is-blogging-bad-or-illegal-in-india.html regarding this issue.

At 3:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi dear
we all have been tought in our child hood that bieng an indian we have a fundamentle right, that is right to express our opinion...

hope the boy ill get justice

At 5:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have to raise voice concerning freedom of expression particularly for citizen or web journalism. Good stand shown by you.

At 2:44 PM , Blogger Deepa said...

Well.. Blogging is no longer expression of free speech.. it will most certainly be the
Damocles Sword


At 4:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have got to see this. Obama playing on XBox. Funniest video ever. http://bit.ly/bllhx1

At 12:22 PM , Blogger Indian Home Maker said...

Very positive. Loved this post!


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