Bloggers unite against SC verdict

February 25, 2009: The Times of India

New Delhi: Outraged bloggers vented their ire in cyberworld against the Supreme Court’s take that they may face libel, even prosecution, for airing their views online. Believing their freedom of expression is in danger, bloggers railed at the SC’s refusal to quash a criminal complaint against a fellow blogger. 

Nikhil Moro, on Civic & Citizen Journalism Interest Group, begins his post saying: ‘‘Today freedom of expression lost a case in India.’’ He further writes: ‘‘The case tested the balance between expressive freedom and other freedoms, particularly in a context of social media activism. Who won? It’s not clear. What is clear is that the freedom of expression lost.’’ 

Whether a community moderator is responsible for comments posted is not the issue here. Bloggers subscribe to a notion of freedom that may be nebulous but is zealously defended. A post on Dragon Fly describes blogging as ‘‘an expression of freedom and it is a power to let you realize yourself.’’ 

How a blogger or community host can be sued for comments posted by others was the main post on Ekawaaz-One Voice. ‘‘I am not able to gather how it is possible that bloggers can be hit with libel and criminal suits on the basis of anonymous postings on their websites,’’ the blogger writes. 

At the center of the furore is 19-year-old Ajith D from Kerala. His web community, not blog, on a social networking site, carried several anonymous comments accusing Shiv Sena of trying to divide the country on region and caste lines. The Sena’s youth wing, in turn, filed a criminal complaint against Ajith in Thane police station. After getting anticipatory bail from Kerala HC, Ajith moved the SC to quash the complaint on the ground that the contents did not have defamation value. 

Dragon Fly contains a scathing criticism of the SC’s move. ‘‘Totalitarianism is official now, you may have the ways to express but you cannot express and if you do, be prepared to face the consequences,’’ it says. ‘‘The issue of hurting public sentiments is a bit crap idea. What will not hurt the public sentiments? If someone raises the issue of legalizing prostitution, it hurts public sentiments, if someone raises issue of legalizing alcohol, drugs or even abortions it hurts public sentiments.’’ 

Karthik S’s post titled, ‘Pandora’s Blog’ on Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, has a list of questions for the court. The first two are: ‘‘Are Indians not allowed to have any (to put it mildly) uncharitable opinions against Shiv Sena (or any political party, for that matter)?’’ and ‘‘If no, is it a crime to open that opinion to discussion — in print or online?’’ 

Despite the threat that the SC’s stand poses, bloggers are discussing and criticizing it and thereby hurting ‘public sentiment’ all over again. Authorities should watch out for the Streisand effect. In web lingo, that means if you try to muzzle something, it proliferates.

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