Thought Box



by Simran Puri June 10 2015, 12:50 pm Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 53 secs

“Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”, thundered John Milton in his famous Areopagitica, his essays on freedom of press and against pre emptive censorship. Since Circa 1644, his words have rung true. Encompassing a world of media larger than he fathomed.  Relentless winds of informationnow blow over diverse landscapes of the world, through media transcending borders, redefining ‘Global’.Above all,exceeding the boundaries of human sensibilities, beliefs, values and morals. Beyond page and paper, sound and sight, the new world of media is virtual. It operates beyond the realms of temporal restrictions, jurisdictions, and addresses alien to postmen. A momentary click disseminates information worldwide, faster than switching on Television. Inhabiting this virtual world is the challenge of the century, as the juggernaut marches undeterred, across contemporaneous realities.

A caveat in history followed. John Milton himself soon became Lord Cromwell’s official censor! Who is to guard the fence of the field? This paradox continues to haunt human existence. The present media inhabiting the virtual world is a boundless monster, feeding on technology, unleashed and daunting to rein in.The “us” and “they”continuegrappling with issues of ‘decency’, ‘morality’, ‘vulgarity’, ‘obscenity’, ‘terrorism’, ‘political’ correctness , ‘authenticity’, ‘censorship’, ‘copyright’, ‘cyber crimes’and others, are some amongst a plethora of issues multiplying in the conundrum.‘Sting operations’, recordings, spycams, CCTV, MMS clips, Tweets, Facebook, all blur the boundaries between private and public domain, feeding media space with high TRPs and revenue. “viral” has a new meaning. And the “virus” is scarcely curable. Who is to regulate and who will punish? Under whose law, jurisdiction, and how? The echo resounds only further in a world of laws with flaws, not yet equipped to deal with the off line realities, leave alone comprehend online occurrences. As Media advances in all its glory or infamy according to taste, the high and the low continue to co-exist in the shifting sands, chasing the mirage of freedom of expression, right to information and ‘personal choices’. With no information highway police, the traffic moves fearlessly at breakneck speed.

The far reaching changes that media engendered owing to technology, cannot be underscored enough. If the Gulf war and disintegration of the USSR were the inception, then Arab Spring became a harbinger,with rippling impact, accelerating challenge to established dictatorships in the region. Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Libya amply demonstrate that the whirlpool has widened. Enlivened by live coverage on news channels, and fed by social media, widening its tentacles.Proverbial iron hands failed to contain the reality that was globally circulating in audio and visual modes. Limited newsroom hours were made up with links to portals ‘For the complete story’.Without technology and media, this phenomenal change was unimaginable. The electronic search engines are chugging faster than any steam locomotive. Brutal executions by ISIS, sensitive Wikipedia leaks, camera “Grabs”and “sound bytes”, have all penetrated censorships. Totalitarian China or Russia play a losing game of keeping the iron curtain drawn.Every reputed publication is read online, accessed from anywhere. A transformed media has transformed the world, through technology.

Environmental issues have received a fillip through intervention of technology, with media highlighting the burning issues of melting glaciers and consequent floods in Europe, bringing the issue home, literally. Ruling Governments may deny, but satellite images don’t lie. From Californian and Australian forest fires to our domestic issues of mangroves, preservation of waterfronts, enemy occupations of territories, all have been rendered a reality by media through  these images. The devastation in Nepal, Kashmir floods, and Iranian earthquakes have attracted aid, owing to graphic coverage made possible through technical aids, whether online or conventional media. The annihilation of Bin Laden on visual footage, offered every detail through media. The same technology awakens public caution on Jihadi enlistments from different countries through online campaigns, or terrorists using advanced technology to execute their plans via mobiles, internet, coded devices and the like.Leading dailies vie for news coverage through MobileApps. The spectrum of possibilities grows unabated, for better or for worse.

In the world of creativity, censorship gets circumvented when “Daughter of India”, the Delhi rape documentary,becomes available online. Films and bestselling books get downloaded even before hitting the stands, as kindles and laptops becomes mediums of unjust gains. Latest games are downloaded instantly online, as manufacturers grapple with marketing strategies. ‘The Game of Thrones’ truly exemplifies in title and spirit the whetted appetites of the consumers for the forbidden. Technology and the media make all this possible. Copyright and censorship are reduced to academic debates. Rampant adult online content continues to breed newer ‘philes’ of differing leanings, cocking a snook at the moral police brigade.  Tweets continue to defame and intrude privacy, and the sufferers wince in silence. Accountability, accuracy and resultant damage, are some of the casualties.  Mischief travels the world with the speed of lightning.

While the new media offers alternative platforms beyond the conventional, it begs the burning issue of regulation. The genie must be contained in some bottle. Closer home, Indian media and entertainment industry grew from Rs.524 billion in 2007 to Rs.917 billionin 2013, as per FICCI-KPMG report, 2013. While the Indian Constitution guarantees the Right to expression under Art.19(1), it is subject to restrictions under 19(2).eg. National security, sovereignty,morality, public policy etc. Furthermore, the Information Technology Act 2000, stands as a sentinel empowering the aggrieved to redressal. Its draconian Sec.66-A was recently struck down by the Supreme Court, when misused to book 2 girls for online comments on the death of Senior Mr.Thakeray.  Other provisions of the same Act are sufficiently empowered to deal with issues of harassment, hateful, blasphemous or other harmful content. These Intermediary Guidelines operate under the parent Act.  We may not need the moral police. But the cyber police is welcome!

It may be of use to mention that under the Information Technology Act, a body called The Computer Emergency Response Team takes care of internet security and oversees censorship. Any Govt. department can block any website through this body, which instructs the Department of telecommunications to block the site after confirming authenticity of the complaint. Further, under the Govt. Intermediary Guidelines, all intermediaries must prescribe a set of rules, privacy policy, user agreements etc for access to their computer resources. The user cannot create content that is pornographic, paedophilic, defamatory,libelous, hateful, ethnically objectionable etc.  The law on the subject continues to evolve.

In summation, a collective responsibility is the need of the hour. John Milton still holds good, opining “…cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sails out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, without dust and heat…”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.