Article 66A; media veterans recommend establishing guidelines, not govt regulation

The law prescribes three years of jail term for anyone causing ‘annoyance and inconvenience on social media’. What does this entail for freedom of speech on social media?

e4m by Abid Hasan
Updated: Mar 17, 2015 8:52 AM
Article 66A; media veterans recommend establishing guidelines, not govt regulation

The Indian government has been on a banning spree lately. We have seen a series of bans in last few weeks, including documentary, food, movies and now in the latest development we could expect the government banning views over the internet.

Social media as a platform allows everyone to share his/her views. There is no regulatory body to control internet media but government is in a position to impose strict rules on internet.

Government interference in not new as far as freedom of speech is concerned. In the constitution of India, in Article 19 (A) it’s mentioned that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Article 19(1)(a) in the Constitution of India, 1949:
(1)    All citizens shall have the right
(a)    to freedom of speech and expression;
(b)   to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c)    to form associations or unions;
(d)   to move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e)   to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India…

     Article 19(2):
                ... nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing  law,
               or prevent the state from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

But Article 66A of the IT act violates the right of freedom of speech and the law prescribes three years of jail term for anyone causing annoyance and inconvenience on the social media.

In a latest development, the government is keen to have strict rules on internet. According to a media report, the centre has informed the Supreme Court that reach and impact of internet is wider than other traditional media and therefore curb on this medium should be advanced in comparison to print and television.

The media report also suggested that Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta also informed SC that there are organisations which are working in different media such as print, broadcasting and cinema.  There are checks and balances within these organisations but on internet there is individual expression with no checks and balances.

We asked some of the senior editors of the country to share their point of view on the regulation of social media by government. It seems they don’t want any such article in the first place and there is no question of stopping someone to share their personal views.

Anant Nath, Editor, Caravan Magazine feels media is already over regulated. He said, “The article 66A is very vague. It always posts a threat the way it has been listed down. The whole law has to be narrowly defined. In the long run action can be taken against obscene pictures, writing, sharing posts, but who will decide what is obscene? Who will take the decision?”
He added, “This law has to be removed not even diluted.”

Rahul Shivshankar, Editor in Chief, NewsX, said, “In principle I am against govt regulating any form of media. I think social media sites that host opinion must be encouraged to self-regulate. The govt must however have the right to recourse under defamation, libel and other laws if websites cross the line. A special libel law needs to be evolved. To sensitize the websites the govt could come up with a list of what is acceptable and what isn't.”

Senior Journalist and Writer, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, said, “In my opinion article 66A can’t continue in its present form. There are too many words which are vague and have not been defined properly. The important question is who decides what is 'reasonable' and what is not in the implementation and enforcement of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Is it your neighbour, a local gangster, a politician, a junior policeman, a top cop, a religious fundamentalist or a judge of the Supreme Court? The problem in India is that too many people are more than willing to take the law into their own hands and even act as a moral policeman. Another limitation in Article 19(2) is that while disruption to 'public order' is not allowed for, the issue of 'public interest' is not dealt with in enforcing the fundamental right to free expression."

There has been huge protest over this article and people from all over the country have tweeted on this issue.

Need guidelines not regulations

While Sanjay Kulshreshtha, Editor in Chief, News Nation feels self responsibility towards the society can only help to deal with issue of freedom of speech on social media. He said, “We need a little regulation from the government in order to rectify the Indian mentality. If people on social media start self regulating themselves it will not lead to any problems like we had in the past. One post or picture can go viral without its authentication. We must have a responsible body which will take care of such activities.”

Senior Journalist, Madhavan Narayanan also felt guidelines can help  smooth functioning. He said, “Social media needs responsibility but regulation cannot be by govt. Maybe guidelines are desirable to curb libel and hate speech.”

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