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Freedom of speech is under attack in India, says Former chief justice AP Shah

Former chief justice of Madras and Delhi high courts says that there is an urgent need for ordinary citizens to rise up and demand accountability from the government

pune Updated: Mar 03, 2018 23:55 IST
Nadeem Inamdar
Nadeem Inamdar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,freedom of speech,attack in india
(From left to right) Vineeta Deshmukh, former chief justice Ajit Prakash Shah, Shailesh Gandhi and Debashis Basu at the Inaugural RTI lecture at Vishwakarma Auditorium in Symbiosis.(SANKET WANKHADE/HT PHOTO)

Former chief justice of Madras and Delhi high courts and former chairman of the 20th Law Commission of India justice Ajit Prakash Shah, on Saturday, said that the right to freedom of speech and expression was under attack in the country and there was an urgent need for ordinary citizens to rise up and demand accountability from the government.

Justice Shah was delivering his inaugural Right to Information (RTI) lecture entitled ‘transparency and empowerment in decision-making are pillars of a healthy democracy ‘ at Symbiosis Vishwabhavan Auditorium. Former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi compered the event organised by RTI centre of money life foundation.

Justice Shah said, “Free speech is under attack. Today, we are living in a world where we are told what we can and cannot eat; what we can and cannot see; and what we can and cannot speak about . Dissent, especially in popular culture, is being curbed. We have journalists who are being shot dead at point blank range merely for the view that they hold and propagate.

“We have movie producers and directors who are being forced to make edits and forced to make disclaimers despite Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) clearance so as not to offend the sentiments of a particular community. If you think about the controversies surrounding Padmavat , Lipstick under my Burkha , S Durga and Jolly LLB , you will realise that we are living in an increasingly intolerant society,” he said.

More importantly, referring to the current state of media, justice Shah said, “It is in this age of mass communication and digital media that the media assumes an even greater importance in playing the role of opposition and checking facts. In fact, no other institution holds so much power in shaping public opinion other than the media. However, in recent times, a large section of the media, particularly the electronic media, through biased and one-sided reporting, has unfortunately aided to the restriction of free speech.

“Today, media has become a propaganda machine for the governments and has lost its independence. It is not an exaggeration to state that our institutions are under attack today and there are concerted attempt to destroy any independent thought.”

He further said that if anyone holds a view that is different from that of the government’s acceptable view, they are immediately dubbed as anti-nationals with a view to intimidate and abrogate voices of dissent and criticism, especially through severe online harassment , trolling and abuse.

“We are today living in the age of propaganda and pro active false information and half truths. The media coverage or rather blackout of certain press conferences and distorting headlines with pro government bias is an attempt to spread disinformation. Unless we, as ordinary citizens, rise up and demand accountability from the government, there will be no change in the situation,” he said.

First Published: Mar 03, 2018 23:54 IST