New Media Censorship in India
An IT savvy nation we definitely are. Maybe even an IT super power. We are also a nation that produces the best programmers in the world. IT has also ignited the entrepreneurial spirit like no other technology before. Yet we are also a nation of IT illiterate bureaucrats and politicians who have no idea about the new media and what it means. We are a democracy yet at the smallest opportunity our babus jump with the red tape. Just two weeks ago I wrote an article "Censoring the Blog" on the unfortunate Chinese censorship and just a week after that our government rushed on censoring the blogosphere as if it was in competition with China.
The Great Indian Ban on Blogs
Last week the government banned access to 17 Internet Web sites and blogs it says preach messages of religious hatred. Silence is golden it is said. But our babus are desperate to prove their illiteracy. So instead of banning the offensive sites and blogs entire domains such as blogspot.com and typepad.com with its thousands and millions of journals of creative expression were completely blocked.
No proper explanation was given for the ban. One major news channel said that "terrorists were now using blogs to get their message across!" while some other said that "terrorists were now tech savvy and using blogs". The details of links between terrorists and blogs nobody was able to explain. My guess is even the TV news editor or presenter or reporter won't know!
The government also had an interesting explanation. According to the Ministry of Communication's Indian Computer Emergency Response Team "These blogs are pitting Muslim against non-Muslim."
The Skewed Right to Freedom of Speech
Traditional versus New Media
If traditional media publishes a story, it's the unquestionable word. Anyone who opposes rarely finds space. A cocktail of sex and crime is used by our news channels to present breaking news day in and day out. The views and idiosyncrasies of the presenters are final. An extra marital affair seen through the news channel eyes is worse than the worst crime. No appeals, no hearing, the news channel verdict is final. In a liberated world sex between lovers is frowned upon but titillation of the viewer is news. Crime is bad but depiction of its minutest detail is news and even more graphic news stripped to its minutest details when the crime is sex related. Rape according the TV news editors' wisdom needs to be "reconstructed" and its minutest details told. Crimes, unknown crimes and yet new crimes needs to be taught to the public.
The freedom of speech, free media as one of the pillars of a democracy, blah blah. Sounds nice. But when it comes to airing your views on an innocuous little blog on which you too can air your opinion, the government wants to play nanny. Whatever happened to one of the free pillars of the democracy? Is news presented by an idiotic, biased news presenter more news worthy than an individual who merely presented his views on the blog? Read if you wish. If its trash, skip it. If it prompts you to give your opinion feel free to air your views.
I am not for any censorship yet I say the government has a right to ban offensive sites and journals. But why blame the entire blogosphere and ban blog majors like blogspot.com and typepad.com which host millions of journals of creative expression. It's like banning writing and reading books because somebody somewhere wrote an offensive book.
Can the new media be censored?
Can information be censored in the information age? If no then how can malicious literature be stopped from spreading? Can India, a democracy succeed in censorship where communist China hasn't succeeded (remember how China has tried to censor the search engines, blogs, forums and more). Are blogs spreading unhealthy information? Does the Internet and moreover search engines need censorship and control? Do we need a nanny to govern our thoughts, words and deeds?
Interesting questions but they have an answer. The web has a mechanism for checking malicious misinformation. Look at it this way. The web is a huge democracy with participants from across the world. Every worthwhile blog is actually worthwhile because of two participants i.e. the writer and the reviewer. Read if you wish. If its trash, skip it. If it prompts you to give your opinion feel free to air your views. So it's actually the democratic setup of the web that determines the worthiness of the blog.
As I said before, is news presented by an idiotic, biased news presenter more news worthy than an individual who merely presented his views on the blog?
Censoring the information age
I can't think of a better way to conclude than what I wrote two weeks ago on the Chinese censorship. Censorship of free speech has never worked and never will. Keith Henson has advice for information controllers "Trying to control information in the network age is about as successful as pissing into the wind."