Regulate The Objectionable Not Animadversion: Cost Of “Free” Speech And Expression

Posted on September 6, 2012

By Mahitha Kasireddi:

“Part of living in a democracy is that you have to accept chaff with wheat”– Kapil Sibal

Everybody wants to be heard, everybody wants to listen, read and comment, that is what defines a democracy by its nature. Be it through letters to the editor of a newspaper regarding an article or on facebook by hitting a like and sharing photos and text. We feel so enthusiastic to find somebody posting a thing that we are inclined to supporting and want to give our own “yes” to it.

Ours is a technology driven society that gives an excellent platform to ordinary people by allowing them to be heard through blogging and commenting on the web. Social networking sites have helped in enhancing democracy by allowing people of similar ideologies to connect, discuss and infer from talks over the internet.

People support opinion and thoughts of each other through social networking where it provides a virtual milieu to the torchbearer of a cause campaign to acquire the consensus of millions through the web. The same worked for gathering thousands of youth for the anti- corruption campaign lead by Anna Hazare. Many groups, pages and events were created on facebook which have an astronomical number of followers and members. Is this not called celebrating democracy?

From the seven fundamental rights, the most worshiped and crucial one is the right to freedom of speech and expression. The constitution of India, under articles 19, 20, 21 and 22 provides this privilege to all the citizens. But are things so simple? I guess not. The same constitution has also imposed ‘reasonable’ restrictions on this right, keeping in mind the security and integrity of the nation and to maintain public peace.

In the 21st century where transparency is most demanded, leaders are facing a challenge of maintaining the balance of preserving privacy and upholding the freedom of expression. There is always a possibility for things to turn out disservice. The government for sure will not tolerate anybody who profligates resources. The open sourcing of information and excessive information has always fired controversies and double versions of issues. Again, thanks to the freedom of expression.

We would have seen people commenting and mocking about the personal life of celebrities and VIPs. One major example here is the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdulla who is a vibrant user of internet. He is beleaguered through hate messages, spoofs and mockery on his family and personal life. The onus of protecting the respect and dignity of an individual again lies on the constitution.

Last year there was some rough and tumble about objectionable content spreading on the social networking sites. The minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal had insisted that major social networking sites such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft should remove graphical posters depicting the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. In fact those posts were really ‘offending’ to their respect and reputation in public.

Censorship in our country is always at disagreement between the movie makers and the censor board authorities. Movies and the electronic media have a lion’s share in influencing the masses and the most vulnerable are children and youth. Censorship plays an important role yet a less influential one in protecting tender minds to get carried away with fancies and fictions. Items expressed through actions, words, songs, pictures, paintings or in any other forms get imbibed easily by innocent and sensitive hearts.

There was the  recent ferment over The Dirty Picture which was announced to be telecast television and was not allowed to, as it was rated an adult movie and such movies could be broadcasted only after 11pm. If the censor authorities were given more teeth we would have not witnessed the very unfortunate incident in Chennai where a student committed a brutal slaughter of a teacher. The boy claims to be inspired by a high voltage violence movie Agneepath. From 23rd March to 26th April 2012 four incidents have been reported in Chennai, Pune and Delhi  which have accused teenagers from the age of 15 to 19 years for kidnap and murder. And three out of four cases are the upshots of watching crime shows and soaps on television.

Projecting crimes in a detailed manner in movies and serials should be considered under objectionable content and regulated soon.
But the government does not play a fair game most of the times. The leaders of our country are just not immune to criticism. “What is the freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist”– Salman Rushdie.

Google had stonewalled the petitions filed by the Indian government saying that it would not remove any substance just because it is disparaging. Attempts of Kapil Sibal to dictate the public on respecting the government went futile. An abhorrent opinion expressed cannot be shunned while it is credible. You can cage the singer but not the song. The test of a democracy is freedom of criticism. Social networking sites are places where people countervail and react to actions of the government. We cannot allow an ex-parte situation, the government has to listen to our opinion.

The popular victim of restrictions on free speech and expression is the eminent politician and whistle blower Subramanian Swamy. He was projected as an offender after his wide disparage writing about the religious status of India. His lectures in Harvard University, were abandoned and the students were not allowed to speak over this issue leaving them chocking for free speech.

One person here has to be referred mandatorily; Mamata Banerjee a street fighter turned politician could not tolerate a petty cartoon of hers and got the person arrested. This is a democracy and people have the right to express anything in any form, by words of mouth, writing, printing, and drawing. The minister also went dictating on which newspapers people should read and which TV channels to watch.

Under the cover of preserving public peace and harmony our administration has always been trying to prohibit animadversion. Movies made in the wake of commenting on social stigmas and issues have always been subjected to objection from the government. The Aarakshan and Ore Oru Gramathile are two such movies which were stalled from screening for addressing caste system and reservations policy in the story. The biggest movie-ban story revolved around the animated movie, DAM999 which showed the unfortunate accident of how a dam collapses and kills hundreds of people. The Tamil Nadu government imposed a ban as it claimed that it was directly indicating towards the Mullaperiyar dam dispute involving Kerala and TN. They said that the case was pending in the court and the movie may influence the adjudication.

This is mere assassination of creativity, innovation and talent under the veil of preserving integrity. Movies are meant to leave a message which makes the public look beyond the clouds of illusions and backwardness. Such films which invoke positive thoughts and changes should be allowed. The SC has upheld the freedom of expression by regularizing that those films which receive a clearance from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) cannot be stamped down for any reasons.

Our leaders need to edify the difference between dishonouring and animadverting. It is the states responsibility to restore public peace and prove their credibility. A community should be configured to formulate better jurisprudence to prosecute those who encroach upon others dignity and privacy and at the same time uphold the right to free expression.

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