No one in India’s official establishment is comprehending the damage being done to its democratic credibility by the ham-handed manner in which content regulation of the Internet is being sought.
Even in the mid-1990s when there were no laws worth their name to control the explosion of satellite television channels, the scenario had not resembled the surreal developments now taking place.
Back in 1995, one remembers the wild goose chase one had to undertake along with colleagues after the Babudom created a big hue and cry about a Chandigarh-based company that had intended to telecast adult content after 11 at night.
Barely six weeks ago, Kapil Sibal, India’s Communications and Information Technology minister, stirred the Hornet’s Nest by calling for pre-censorship on the social media sites. The matter might have faded from the headlines but did not completely go away from the ‘objectives’ list of significant sections in the establishment. For them, a return to the censorship regime of Emergency is not all that off-putting. No thought is given by this section to how media Glasnost has created checks and balances for the army across the border!
For a moment visualize the Internet as one big network of roads and by-lanes of a metropolis like India’s capital. Think of a ‘hate-group’ that goes around sticking posters against personal adversaries, targeted professionals and specific communities.
Going by the logic being pursued by the judiciary with tacit support from the establishment, the municipal authorities should be the ones to be first hauled up in court before any attempt is even made to identify the perpetrators of the hate-campaign.
Indian officials and its judiciary must avoid imposing any control-mechanism that would allow its adversaries to equate it with China. This is one area where India would stand to gain in stature if its record remains unblemished and it does not try to match China’s ability to control content on the Internet.
India has always had archaic laws. In several areas there are several laws that are more than a century old. But they deal with subjects where the State gets a certain amount of protection despite inadequacy of laws. When it comes to the Internet and web content, laws become outdated in less than a year because the entire game has undergone a dramatic change.
Indian officials and the judiciary – if they wish to engage the Internet companies – need to first understand the dynamics of the virtual terrain. If they continue trying to impose outdated laws with an inadequate understanding of this medium, they will continue to have egg on their faces. And those being penalized will emerge as human rights champions even if their own records are not particularly untarnished.