Indian Government's new attempt to regulate "online content"

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. ... Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.”

  • Declaration of Independence by John Perry Barlow, February 8, 1996.

Internet was designed to be an open and free means of communication. Before the internet, knowledge was constrained in the lines of books, and later print media.

The books gave us the mind to think, an opinion to form. But it never provided us the space/way to raise our voice. The other problem was accessibility to the print medium of knowledge books. The mass/ the people unable to get access to the books, newspaper etc were living the life of a purblind.

Internet broke that barrier. It made the information available and accessible, making the mass/us worthy of forming our own opinion. It free in its spirit. Where people can speak their mind without being concerned about any superior lord, government or any other authority. In the words of late John Perry Barlow internet has the potential to giving a voice to everybody, which it has indeed.

But this immense power in the hand of mass does not really go well with the authorities, society, Government. The Government with the help of the state power tries to check, control, conquer us, our power, rights.The recent order, dated 4th April 2018, passed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of
is one of such attempt.

The order states to constitute a committee of 10 members to frame rules, regulate the online media, news portals, and online content. The committee shall deal, the terms of reference are as follows:

  • To delineate the sphere of online information dissemination which needs to be brought under regulation, on the lines applicable to print and electronic media.

  • To recommend appropriate policy formulation for online media / news portals and online content platforms including digital broadcasting which encompasses entertainment / infotainment and news/media aggregators keeping in mind the extant FDI norms, Programme & Advertising Code for TV Channels, norms circulated by PCI, code of ethics framed by NBA and norms prescribed by IBF; and

  • To analyze the international scenario on such existing regulatory mechanisms with a view to incorporate the best practices.

The threats lie within:

This abruptly designed order is vastly ambiguous and fails to be followed in the real life scenario. To further the point let us go through the order.

The subject of the order states that the committee shall frame “regulations for online media/news portals and online content ...”
The committee will not only regulate the online press but also “online content”. Whatever is there online, your personal blog, your social updates, pictures which give an individual user an information, experience which may be textual, visual or in any other form, forms an online content. Thus by the definition, the committee shall now on determine what we will post in our blog, website.

By regulating the “online content” our dear Government is trying to curb our voice, our opinion, our right to free speech and expression as guaranteed by the Article 19 of the Constitution of India. It will stop thinkers, scholars, activists, you to speak what they want to. It will make the job of the people in power easy to show what they want us to see, shape our mind as their wish.

My blog is my personal space. My online presence is an extension to myself. So, what I write, what I think is no one’s business, if I do it within the limits of reasonable restrictions enshrined by the Constitution. You may disagree, oppose but certainly not regulate what I do in my personal space. Therefore this order is also derogatory to our Right to Privacy.

This order is also faulty/bad on the point that it says the committee shall “delineate the sphere of online information dissemination which needs to be brought under regulation, on the lines applicable to print and electronic media”. Therefore according to this order even my small write up/ post regarding me getting an upset stomach is a news (wow, the Government is making us all celebrity). It will treated with same density (under the same laws) on a news on our Prime Minister signing a treaty with our neighboring country.

This order primarily forgets that the online space can not be bound by any territorial boundary.

Protest, don’t give up your freedom of speech and expression

We, the governed (not the subject), do not need the Government to define or specify the rules in cyberspace, our land, the space of mind. It is our time raise our voice against it.

Medianama has arranged an event, discussions on May 10th 2018, in Mumbai, at 12:30 PM on this issue, Online Content Regulation in India. Today, i.e 6th May 2018 will be last day to fill up the form to this invite only session. Please do attend the event, and strengthen the opposition against this derogatory order.

Funny but this makes me remind of a scene from “Hirok Rajar Deshe” by Satyajit Ray where the Scientist sales the King a machine to mold thought and understanding of the subject. Sadly our country is leading to that.

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