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  • Why My Paper Had a Blank Editorial

    November 19, 2015

    Three Nagaland newspapers responded with blank editorials to the Assam Rifles directive to them not to publish news related to the banned outfit, NSCN(K), under threat of being prosecuted for abetting insurgency. In an article in the Indian Express, Monalisa Changkija explains why.  The Indian Express also wrote an editorial telling Assam Rifles to keep off. The link to that editorial is given below. Excerpts from Ms Changkija's article: 

    As the theme speaker for National Press Day, celebrated on November 16, I had said: “But there comes a time in the life of an individual, as much as in the life of a society, when we must do or die, or die doing, because only a few of us are blessed with the courage of conviction to live beyond and above our own selves. And we solemnly observe National Press Day today because we, those of us gathered here today, have vowed to be guided by our courage of conviction… I think those of us gathered here today will agree that it is worth laying down our lives for.” This was in reference to the Assam Rifles’ censorious “notification” to newspapers in Nagaland, and the Nagaland editors’ joint public statement thereof, which is now in the public domain. The blank editorials in three Nagaland newspapers — the Nagaland Page, Eastern Mirror and Morung Express — on November 16, were also messages for all who would gladly muzzle the press one way or the other. There are many such agents, though not all of them are armed groups or non-state actors, or even the security forces. In Nagaland, there are too many power centres. The state government does not govern. Rather, it outsources governing, hence creating a huge vacuum that is filled by several parallel governments.

    ......Contrary to what was tacitly underlined in the Assam Rifles’ “notification” to us, the press is not the cause of the “thriving” of the insurgency or armed groups’ activities, but a victim of the failure of Afspa, the Assam Rifles and indeed the rest of the security forces deployed here to contain and curb them. Also, while the Assam Rifles quoted the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, to control and dictate to the Nagaland press, and we respect this act, the Union ministry of home affairs should have directly, or through the Nagaland state government, consulted with us on the issue of dealing with the publication of press releases/ statements of banned groups. Unless the ministry is trying to gag the Nagaland press obliquely through the Assam Rifles? But is the Assam Rifles constitutionally mandated to issue such “notifications” to any press? But then again, anyone who is well versed with the situation in Nagaland (and the rest of the Northeast) will know that it is very difficult to comprehend the internal working and decision-making logic of the security forces, or indeed of the MHA, given that Afspa is still in force here.

    Link to the Indian Express article.

    Indian Express editorial 

    Monalisa Changkija's photo courtesy of www.northeastreview.wordpress.com

     

  • 'Press Council Should Regulate TV and Internet News Too'

    November 17, 2015

    The Press Council of India was best suited to regulate news standards on television and the Internet, its chairman, Justice (retd) C K Prasad said on the occasion of National Press Day, the Times of India reported. Prasad said there were constraints on the council in terms of legal powers to tackle rising attacks on journalists and deal with violations of professional standards and ethics. Government funding must reduce, he said, and contributions by stakeholders must increase so that the council could be truly autonomous. 

    Phioto credit: www.sarkaritel.com

  • Not Every Journalist Is Chasing the Salacious and the Steamy: Justice Gautam Shirish Patel

    September 25, 2015

    Excerpts from the judgement of Justice Patel of the Bombay High Court dismissing National Stock Exchange's defamation suit against Sucheta Dalal and Debhashish Basu for their article that NSE's systems could give some high-frequency algorithmic traders the advantage of a few micro-seconds. He also imposed a fine of Rs 50 lakh on the NSE.

    (Photo courtesy: Bombay High Court) 

     

    "It is fashionable these days to deride every section of the media as mere papparazzi, chasing the salacious and steamy. We forget again. None of the scams and the leaks of the past two decades would have been possible without journalists, editors, newspapers and television news anchors. We have grown accustomed to mocking them. We deride their manner, describing them as loud, brash, obnoxious, abrasive and opinionated. We forget. We forget that but for them the many uncomfortable questions that must be asked of those in authority and those with the sheer muscle power of money would forever go unasked and unanswered. We forget that it is these persons we are so wont to mock who are, truly, the watchdogs of our body politic, the voice of our collective conscience, the sentinels on our ramparts. They may annoy. They may irritate. They certainly distress and cause discomfort. That is not only their job. It is their burden. Watchdogs respond to whistles and whistles need whistleblowers; and between them if they can ask what others have not dared, if they can, if I may be permitted this, boldly go where none have gone before; if they can, as they say, rattle a few cages, then that is all to the good. Neither of our principal stock exchanges are strangers to scandal; no matter what the NSE may think of itself, and even if Dr. Tulzapurkar (advocate for the National Stock Exchange) insists that the past is the past and irrelevant today, public memory is not that short. The scams that beleaguered our exchanges in the past, and those that continue to occupy the time of this Court have at least in part come to light because of persons like Ms.(Sucheta) Dalal and her fellow travellers. If regulatory agencies have been compelled to make changes, and if our own Supreme Court has felt it necessary to step in with drastic orders, it is because every oversight process has either failed or been subverted. The Plaintiffs are in error when they describe Ms. Dalal as some out-of-control lone wolf. The nation may or may not want to know; Ms. Dalal does. So do her readers. And, as it happens, so do I. She is certainly entitled to ask, to question, to doubt and to draw legitimate conclusions.
    26. Today, all our institutions face the crisis of dwindling public confidence. Neither the NSE nor the judiciary are exceptions to this. It presents a very real dilemma, for the existence of our institutions is posited on that very public confidence and faith and its continuance. The challenge is, I think, in finding legitimate methods of restoring that public trust, that balance. Hence the cries for transparency and accountability everywhere; and I see no reason why the NSE should be any exception to this. Quelling dissent and doubt by strong-arming seems to me a decidedly odd way of going about restoring that public faith. It is not a move that, from a public institution, readily commends itself. For public bodies and figures, I would suggest that the legal standard is set higher to demonstrated actual malice and a wanton and reckless embracing of falsehood though countered at the first available opportunity. I do not think it is reasonable to propose a legal standard of utter faultlessness in reportage or public comment in relation to such bodies or persons. If there is indeed a factual error, can it be said to have been made in good faith, and in a reasonable belief that it was true? The 'actual malice' standard seems to me to suggest that one or both of these must be shown: intentional falsehood, or a reckless failure to attempt the verification that a reasonable person would. In this case, I do not think that the Plaintiffs (National Stock Exchange) have met that standard, or demonstrated either intentional falsehood or a failure to attempt a verification. The burden of proof in claiming the qualified privilege that attaches to fair comment can safely be said to have been discharged."

  • Every Citizen has the Right to Dissent:: Vice President Hamid Ansari

    September 25, 2015

    Excerpts from Vice-president Hamid Ansari's First Ram Manohar Lohia Memorial Lecture at ITM University, Gwalior:  

    "It has been observed with much justice that the history of progress of mankind is a history of informed dissent. This can take many forms ranging from conscientious objection to civil or revolutionary disobedience. In a democratic society, including ours, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. In that sense, the right of dissent also becomes the duty of dissent since tactics to suppress dissent tend to diminish the democratic essence. In a wider sense, the expression of dissent can and does play a role in preventing serious mistakes arising out of what has been called “social cascades” and “group polarization” which act as deterrent on free expression of views or sharing of information.   

    Dissent as a right has been recognized by the Supreme Court of India as one aspect of the right of the freedom of speech guaranteed as a Fundamental Right by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. The court has observed that “the restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms” and that the proviso of Article 19(2) is justiciable in the sense that the restrictions on it have to be ‘reasonable’ and cannot be arbitrary, excessive or disproportionate.

    In the globalizing world of today and in most countries having a democratic fabric, the role of civil society in the articulation of dissent has been and continues to be comprehensively discussed; so does the question of its marginalization or suppression.

    Despite the unambiguously stated position in law, civil society concerns about constraints on the right of dissent in actual practice have been articulated powerfully. “On the surface,” wrote one of our eminent academics some time back, “Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions.” Referring to the then new reporting requirements for NGOs, he said:

              “nothing is more fatal for disagreements and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden sub-texts or external agendas…The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves        you of taking their ideas seriously. Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the contents of the claim…This has serious consequences for dissent.”

    This was written in 2012. It is a moot point if, given the Pavlovian reflexes of the Leviathan, things would have changed for the better since then. Informed commentaries suggest the contrary.

    Every citizen of the Republic has the right and the duty to judge. Herein lies the indispensability of dissent.”

    Photo courtesy: PIB Mumbai

  • What is Wrong with Media Coverage of the Sheena Murder Case?

    September 06, 2015

    Excerpts from Amulya Gopalakrishnan's critique in the Times of India of 1 Sept, Op-ed page.

    How does media advance public accountability in a criminal case? By reporting the investigation and providing perspective, and exposing any flaws in the conduct of police and courts. Not by inviting random people and allowing every conjecture in their lizard brains to be aired, and prejudicing perceptions of the case even before the chargesheet has been filed.

    As far as TV channels and the digital media and many newspapers are concerned, there seems to be no obligation to respect Indrani’s privacy. Being declared a suspect is enough, the media now has licence to pry. There have been interviews with former schoolmates, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. Intimate details of her life have been flung about. Her family tree and business dealings have been leading news items, with no attempt made to establish relevance.
    What about the presumption that she is innocent until proven guilty? Is it the media’s job to feed on leaks and funnel sympathies one way or the other, or to leave evidence-gathering and motive – establishing to the investigators and leave room for a fair trial?
    The logic of TV, though, means that it would be near-impossible to maintain distance and decorum in the Indrani case. The material is simply too promising to be passed up. When the media is sustained by ratings, news naturally blurs into entertainment and public interest comes to mean what the public is interested in.
    Around the world, media trials feature a few recurring tropes – the ‘sinful rich’, the ‘abuse of trust or power’, the ‘evil stranger’. Extra-legal facts are routinely highlighted. By that logic, this case is brimming with exploitable angles.
    What draws TV and public attention to a particular crime? The algorithm usually involves the social prominence of accused or victim, the exceptional or grisly nature of the crime, and the emotional resonance of the story. TV doesn’t cover mundane crime or care about conditions that foster crime. Crime is presented as individualised pathology, propelled by things like madness or ambition. Agents of law and order are usually celebrated. And perspective is sacrificed for sensation.


    * * * *

    Somehow, social mobility is suspect in India; it is assumed that anyone who rises rapidly must have made some pact with the devil, and when it’s a woman, the titillating possibilities are endless. This paper ran an article called ‘Shock and horror among Assamese women’ – where random people decried her for not submitting herself to family alone, calling her actions monstrous, hurling metaphorical rocks.

    Click here to read the full article

    Even editors cannot refrain from being salacious. Here is an exchange between Rahul Kanwal and Vir Sangvi on India Today TV

    (Amulya's photo credit: Indian Express)

  • Winners of the 2015 FMP-Indiaspend Healthcare and Sanitation Fellowships

    June 06, 2015

    Congratulations to Raksha Kumar and Nitika Saxena for winning the FMP-Indiaspend Healthcare and Sanitation fellowships. Only two were on offer but Indiaspend was kind enough to institute two more ‘half’ fellowships for Rakhi Ghosh and Urvashi Prasad on the recommendation of the jury.  Congratulations to Rakshi and Urvashi as well.

    Raksha Kumar (pictured here) is a graduate of the Journalism School, Columbia University and a Fulbright scholar.  She proposes to examine the state of maternity wards in rural districts of three states to find out whether  the cut in healthcare spending by the central government has had an adverse impact on them.  She would also like to examine whether medical insurance is increasing the gap between government and private healthcare facilities.  Her third proposal is on female laparoscopy Vs male sterilisation.

    Nikita Saxena is currently an assistant wed editor with Caravan magazine. She is a graduate of mass media from St Xavier’s, Mumbai, and also a Young India fellow of Ashoka University.  Nikita won the Mumbai Press Club’s 2014 RedInk Award for her story on advertising practices of tobacco companies. It was published in the September 2014 issue of Caravan.

    Rakhi Ghosh is based in Bhubaneshwar. He is a post-graduate in journalism from Utkal University.  She got the Child Survival Media Fellowship in 2014 from National Foundation of India and Save the Children to work on ‘adolescent, reproductive and maternal health,’ in different parts of Odisha.

    Rakhi has sent three proposals including one on menstrual hygiene and open defecation.

    Urvashi Prasad is working on a master’s degree in public health at the London School of Hygiene. She previously managed the health, water and sanitation portfolio of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation in India.

    Our best wishes to all the four winners. We also wish to thank all those who sent in proposals. We got eighteen in all from across the country, including  Kerala, J&K, Odisha and Rajasthan.

    We are grateful to our jury members. Dr Srinath Reddy, went through each of the proposals and made detailed comments.  Dr Reddy is a renowned cardiologist and heads the Public Health Foundation of India, which he set up.  Dr Samiran Nandy is a well-known liver transplant surgeon, and is dean of  Gripmer (Ganga Ram Institute for Post-graduate Medical Education and Research),  Delhi.  He has an amazing knack of getting to the nub of an issue and made insightful observations.

    The  Foundation for Media Professionals is keen on promoting journalism that makes a difference to our lives. Hence its association with Indiaspend for this fellowship.

    Indiaspend specialises in data-based journalism.  For more details visit www.indiaspend.com.

    We wish to thank Indiaspend’s founder Govindraj Ethiraj for partnering with us.

    All those who responded to our offer of fellowship should consider writing for Indiaspend.com.  

     

     

     

     

  • For Modi Fourth Estate is the Last Estate

    June 02, 2015

    As Narendra Modi celebrates his first year in office as prime minister, the man who held 'the second most important office in the country' at one time writes that the claim of the traditional media to be the Fourth Estate of democracy 'lies in tatters'. No prime minister since Indendence, writes Dilip Padgaonmar (in a blog in ToI on 23 May), has been as image conscious, and 'no one has shown such relentless contempt for them as he has.'
    Modi did not hold press conferences as chief minister. He kept the English media out of bounds of the secretariat in Gandhinagar. He did not give interviews that would have involved supplementary questions. Journalists had to be content with using press releases prepared by Modi's self-effacing PRO, Jagdish Thakkar.
    Modi has brought these atittudes to Delhi with him,says Padgaonkar. What has encouraged him is the string of electoral victories in Gujarat. The numerous public rallies during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and use of social media for 'direct, unfiltered, unidirectional and, not least, accessible to any owner of a mobile phone,' that resulted in the BJP's spectacular triumph, has further persuaded Modi to the redundancy of traditional media.
    Click here to read full piece.

    NOTE:After Modi gave an interview to TIME on 8 May, he spoke to Jagran on 10 May. At the end of the month, he chatted with PTI and gave an interview to UNI on 1 June.  Of course, this may not suggest a change in Modi's attitude. 

    (Photo courtesy rediff.com)

  • India Ranks Low on Media Freedom Index

    May 04, 2015

    Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has ranked India 135th out of 180 countries in its 2015 press freedom index for acts of censorship, like Al-Jazeera being banned from broadcasting in India for five days from 22 to 27 April, 2015. Strangely, few newspapers and TV channels reported this in India. RWB condemned the Indian government for the ban. ‘The sanction should never have been imposed on Al-Jazeera and just reflects the government’s growing intolerance of any journalism it does not agree with,’ said Benjamin Ismail, the head of RWB’s Asia-Pacific desk.

    ‘The Indian government has every right to state its position on this border, and it does so frequently, but there is no justification for censoring the different viewpoints that are reflected in the media. We call for the immediate resumption of broadcasting by Al-Jazeera.’

    Al-Jazeera had published a map of India showing Pakistan and Indian administered territories distinctly.

    In May 2011, the organization says, the Indian customs department forced The Economist to alter 28,000 copies of its 21 May issue before permitting their distribution in India. It contained a map showing the territory claimed by India and Pakistan without taking sides.

    Disclosure of Sources

    RWB said the Andaman police arrested and beat three members of the Karen community in November 2014 to force them to confess their alleged complicity with two French journalists who had entered a reserve of the aboriginal Jarawa tribals. Saw Santom, Saw Awenger and Saw Safmi, were held and beaten by the police chief of Mayabunder, it said, for helping Alexandre Dereims and Claire Beilvert with their documentary.  

    The authorities were alerted when a trailer of the documentary went up on the web along with photos taken during the reporting trip. The reporters had violated the Aboriginal Tribes Protection Act of 2012. RWB said the Andaman authorities were reportedly planning to seek the help of Interpol in pursuing the case.

    It was ‘unacceptable for police to launch a witch hunt to punish those who assist the media’ Ismail said. ‘Officials have to recognize journalists’ right not to reveal their sources.’

    The French reporters and those who assisted them may be on thin legal grounds as they had broken the law.  RWB admitted the violation, but said ‘human rights issues raised by their documentary make it a work of public interest. Consequently, their actions may be justified under international law.’

    Kashmir Assembly Elections

    RWB has recorded several instances of violation of media freedom during the Kashmir assembly elections between 7 April and 12 May, 2014.

    Sheikh Inayet, a local correspondent of Times Now and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, a reporter for the Sharhebeeb Times  were covering a party meeting in Bandipora on 19 April when they were attacked and badly injured by members of the SOG, police officers and reservists, RWB said.

    Javed Dar, a photojournalist of Xinhua News, was attacked and injured by police in Kulgam on 24 April, while the windows of the car of the journalist accompanying him, Farooq Javed Khan, were smashed, it added.

    Shabnam Fayz of Munsif TV and Aadil Umar Shah of Voice TV had to be hospitalized after being beaten by police while covering protests in Pulwama, on 24 April, RWB said in its report.

    Blasphemy

    In January 2014, Jitendra Prasad Das, the sub-editor of the Oriya-language daily, Samaj, was arrested in connection with the publication of a picture of the Prophet Mohammed. ‘We regret that Samaj did not protect this young journalist by taking responsibility for publishing the picture. This attitude is indicative of the pressure under which it was placed and the self-censorship it feels forced to adopt.’ RWB said.

    Muslims had demonstrated before the newspapers offices in Cuttack, Balasore, Rourkela and Kendrapada, demanding a public apology. Although editor Satya Ray published an apology in the newspaper, protesters ransacked its Balasore office and torched its Rourkela office.

    As the person supposedly responsible for the inclusion of the picture, Das was arrested at the newspaper’s headquarters in Cuttack on a charge of ‘hurting religious sentiments,’ RWB said.

    When the entire editorial staff told the police that they should all be arrested, the police said they singling out Das just to defuse street tension. He was nonetheless taken before a judge.

    RWB noted that the National Union of Journalists' secretary- general Prasanna Mohanty had criticized the Samaj management for giving Das’ name to the police instead of taking collective responsibility.

    An FMP View

    Some of the incidents mentioned by RWB fall into a grey zone. For instance, the French journalists cannot claim media freedom to walk into a tribal reserve which is out of bounds for outsiders. But if human rights violations were indeed taking place, would the authorities have allowed them access and indicted themselves?

    The depiction of India’s boundaries is another sensitive issue.  The fact that an Arab channel was involved perhaps made the Indian authorities more uncomfortable.

    ‘India is meant to be a democracy that approves of freedom of speech," John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist, had told AFP after it was forced to put stickers manually on the Kashmir map in its May 2011 issue.  India’s ‘attitude on the issue is much more hostile than either Pakistan or China’, he said.  But China protests whenever an Indian government leader visits Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims.

    The publication of the Prophet’s picture was a bold but foolish act, as Indian authorities do not have a record of upholding freedom of speech when it comes to religious issues. So all citizens are subject to what one community considers as blasphemy. Other religious communities are also quick to take offence and urge censorship. An allegation of ‘hurt sentiments’ is enough to trigger police action.   

    India has become a difficult place for journalists to operate. The few instances which RWB mentions do not cover the harassment and hate which journalists routinely face from right-wing Internet trolls. Coverage of right wing violence, or of violation of the rights of Muslims citizens to live where they wish (like a neighbourhood in Bhavnagar, Gujarat), questioning the reports of alleged mass conversions, interrogating the arrest and imprisonment of Muslims on thin or no evidence for alleged acts of terrorism, investigation into possible acts of terrorism by Hindutva groups and doubting the ‘clean chit’ of courts to leaders implicated in the 2002 Gujarat riots is met with derision. ‘Sickular,’ ‘news traders,’ ‘bazaaru,’ and ‘presstitutes,’ are some of the abuses.

    India has risen up RWB’s freedom of media index, from 140 in 2013 to 135 now. Other countries of South Asia fare worse. Bangladesh is at 146, Pakistan is ranked 158 and Sri Lanka 165. But India continues to be a difficult place for journalists. Itis not just the political establishment; even media owners do not like outspoken editors and reporters.       

    (Image is that of notice posted by Al-Jazeera on its screen following India's ban on it. Photo credit: Reporters Without Borders). 

  • 'Govt Must be Rational; Media Is Not Conspiring'

    April 29, 2015

    Given the sway that media owners have on content, and given the positive sentiment that exists in business circles towards this government, there is no reason to believe that media is engaged in any conspiracies against this government. It is time for a rational view, says Santosh Desai in his column in the Times of India, 26 April, 2015.


    'The danger of thinking of media as an actor in a conspiracy is that little attempt is made to understand it; the effort is largely aimed at taming it through some manner of force or denouncing it angrily. The latter has been much in evidence in the last few weeks with some senior members of the government including the PM railing against media and calling it names, civilized and otherwise. Any mature government learns how to work with media, and finds ways of managing a relationship with it. The relationship is almost always tense and often adversarial, but seldom do things reach the point that they seem to be doing. Perhaps this a good time for some realism about how media works.'

    Click here for full report

    (Photo courtesy:exchange4media)

  • Raghav Bahl Makes Case For Net Neutrality With Personal Example

    April 16, 2015

    Last year, Raghav Bahl, the founder of Network 18 group, sold the broadcasting business he built over twenty years from scatch with chutzpah and grit. In this telegraphic piece he talks about how Indian regulators, who fancy themselves as the protectors of the consumer interest, and predatory cable operators did him in. Those who owned the pipes that carried his channels to viewers threatened to apply the squeeze if he did not pay up. They exacted as much as a third of his revenues, he says.
    In the Internet space, telecom companies are eyeing that model. Airtel Zero is a test baloon. Other telcos will follow. TRAI, the telecom regulator, has floated a consultation paper on whether telcos should charge for over the top services like Whatsapp and Skype that use access to the Internet. The argument is that these services cannibalise the telcos' text messaging and voice services without paying a paisa. But the counter argument is that users already pay for the data. TRAI chariman, Rahul Khullar, has pointed fingers at a media group in the Indian Express without naming it, as orchestrating the campaign. Yes, the Times of India group has been campaigning aggressively for Net neutrality. It is an interested party; that does not invalidate the arguments. Earlier, he had a similar spat over the impostion of 12 minutes per hour advertising cap on TV channels. 'I do not have to win a f*****g election,' he told Sevanti Ninan of thehoot, a media watchdog, for having his way.  

    But let us not stand between you and Raghav Bahl's story. 

  • Say No To Airtel Zero!

    April 13, 2015

    Airtel says Airtel Zero makes the Internet more accessible and drives innovation. (See press release). Under the plan customers will not have to pay the telco for use of bandwith for accessing the applications on Airtel Zero. This is because the app providers would have paid Airtel. Now this divides the Internet into free and paid.  Overtime, those that want free choice of apps will have to pay more.

    It is quite sinister.

    Airtel makes it seem like the app are coming to us for free. Not so. We are paying already for data usage, whos rates according to journalists who watch the industry, is falling globally but rising in India.

    Sunil Bharti Mittal, Airtel's founder had told Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook at a global telecom do in Barcelona on March 8 that telcos should do philanthropy if they do not wish to charge for the apps that are riding their networks. Facebook has started internet.org, a free service to bring more people to use the internet, but perhaps start charging them once they are hooked on.

    India's telecom regulator, TRAI, has floated a consultation paper on Over The Top (OTT) services. TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar has betrayed a sympathy for the industry position in at least one of his remarks. Last December, he had said that OTT providers cannot expect not to be charged.

    Earlier, Khullar had fixed the advertising time on news and entertainment channels, ignoring the financial mess most of them were in. In another consulation paper, TRAI had called for a single watchdog for the print, TV and Internet news media.

    The record of our regulators and ministers upholding the consumer interest is pretty dismal. The DGCA steps in every time an airline announces deep discounts. Delhi's electricity regulator regularly raises tariffs even though the private discoms got a Rs 3,000 cr loan at the time of privatisation (which they were supposed to retun but never have) from the Delhi government, and distribution losses have fallen drastically (which means more revenue yielding electricity). The central electricity regulator has helped middlemen rake it in, instead of enabling bulk consumers access cheap power producers. 

    Praful Patel, as civil aviation minister, in UPA-I, allowed Delhi and Mumbai airport developers to charge an airport development fee, even when the airports where being constructed. In other words, he allowed them to charge for services not provided. 

    US President Barack Obama has endorsed Net neutrality. At a Law Commission consulation facilitated by FMP last December, a forceful case was made for Net neutrality. 

    Here is Firstpost's opinion (one of many) in favour of keeping the Internet free from grabby corporates.  

  • Is India's Right to Free Speech Broader Than the US First Amendment?

    March 27, 2015

    Supreme Court Justice,  Rohinton Fali Nariman, observes in his judgment striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2009, that the restrictions on India's right to freedom of speech are narrower than the police powers under which the US Supreme Court abridges free speech. The question is: Are the eight restrictions provided in Article 19(2) so broad as to make free speech less free in India than in the United States despite the flexibility which the US Supreme Court enjoys?  

    The US First Amendment is absolute.  It says Congress shall make no law which abridges the freedom of speech. It speaks of freedom of speech and of the press. It makes no reference to ‘expression.’  It allows speech to be abridged.

    Our constitution speaks of freedom of speech and expression without any reference to ‘the press.’ It allows reasonable restrictions to be imposed so long as they are proximately related to the eight restrictions listed in Article 19(2) namely, sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.

    The US Supreme Court has never given literal effect to the declaration that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. Nariman quotes a US Supreme Court judgment which acknowledged narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous and the insulting or 'fighting' words ? those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. Such utterances are not an essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality. The US Supreme Court observed that ‘resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution, and its punishment as a criminal act would raise no question under that instrument.'

    As far as the second difference is concerned, Nariman points out that the US Supreme Court has included 'expression' as part of freedom of speech and India’s Supreme Court has included 'the press' as being covered under the right to freedom of speech and expression, so that, as a matter of judicial interpretation, both apex courts protect the freedom of speech and expression and press freedom. Both have held that a restriction in order to be reasonable must be narrowly tailored or narrowly interpreted so as to abridge or restrict only what is absolutely necessary. It is only when it comes to the eight Indian restrictions that there is a vast difference. In the US, if there is a compelling necessity to achieve an important governmental or societal goal, a law abridging freedom of speech may pass muster. But in India, such a law to restrict freedom of speech and expression cannot pass unless it meets the test of Article 19 (2). If not, Indian courts will strike down such law.

    Viewed from the above perspective, Nariman says, American judgments have great persuasive value on the content of freedom of speech and expression and the tests laid down for its infringement. It is only when it comes to subserving the general public interest that there is a world of difference. Nariman quotes a 1962 judgment of the Supreme Court, which observed that in the US the right to free speech is subject to police power, the scope of which has not been defined with precision or uniformly. It is on the basis of this police power that the constitutional validity of laws penalizing libel, those relating to sedition or to obscene publications have been sustained. This flexibility of restrictions renders American decisions inapplicable to and of not much use in the Indian context, where the restrictions are set out with definiteness and precision. 

    (Photo courtesy of www.firstpost.com)

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