by a Thinker, Sailor, Blogger, Irreverent Guy from Madras

Bloggers sniffing Jasmine? Throw some Agent Orange

The ‘Jasmine Revolution’ may have succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt and raised hopes in middle east, but in Libya, it seems to be winding towards a massacre as the World watches, twiddling thumbs (if not something else).

First off, I don’t know why it was dubbed ‘Jasmine Revolution’ - the speed, fervour and its sweep made it seem more like a ‘Khamsin’ blowing out the despotic governments.  The speed and the spread were due to the protestors reliance on the internet technology using email, blogs, micro-blogs and social networking to come together, encourage, organize and present a collective front.

While Egypt under Mubarak unsuccessfully tried to sever the internet and the coordination of the protestors, other regimes, like Libya were quick enough to learn and China was powerful enough to suppress voices in the internet and put a lid on, for the present.

In case you think that it is only oppressive or despotic regimes who have understood the power of the internet and the danger to their own wicked ways, you better shake off the stupor and take a good look around.

Very, very quietly, bureaucrats back home in India have put up an amendment to a legislation which will police the blogs and their content including the comments with liability, censorship, including possible civil and criminal action.

Before we go any further, let me clarify that I am not one of those ‘free-speech-at-all-costs’ fanatic like in the US, who believe that speaking, writing or publishing of anything, even if it is racial, vulgar or hateful is their God given freedom.

Whatever those fanatics in the US or even saner elements there do believe in, in a country like India, it is essential for all of us to follow a more responsible free-speech etiquette. 

A bigot of a pastor in the US can call for burning of a holy book and the authorities might not act against him under ‘free-speech’, but Afghanistan and Indonesia witnessed massive protests.  Back home and in surroundings, the webfarers need to be more watchful and circumspect - because their writings have wider ramifications.

We have had our own problems with various hate so-and-so pages, haven’t we?

In these cases, it was the online webfarers who alerted the concerned while the authorities were caught napping.  Thus it is easy to see that the Indian online community is pretty circumspect and self-censuring.

It is cruel for such responsible group to be threatened with such a draconian legislation, which if put into effect,  will effectively allow Indian bloggers to write only poetry, cooking recipes, gardening and such like.

Even then ‘limericks’ would be considered a strict no-no.

The amendment calls for policing to prevent, ‘threatening, abusive, objectionable, defamatory, vulgar, racial’ content in a blog or comments, apart from service providers and other intermediaries. 

While I or anyone else wouldn’t have any problems about removing or censuring vulgar or racial content, defamation or libel is a civil procedure.  I cannot simply understand what does an act meant to regulate Information Technology have to do with libel or defamation?

Even without such all encompassing wordings, webfarers are at risk.  Just today is a report that an US blogger was fined $65,000 for reporting truth about links between alleged fraud and a former local leader (via boingboing).  This is not the first case of such issues.

Earlier I had written about couple of UK Tweeters and a US blogger in some trouble.

Everyone must be worried about what exactly is an abusive post.  If using ‘harsh (or insulting) language’ is to be taken as an apt meaning, even this post could be made as abusive for calling leaders of countries with whom India still has friendly relations, as despotic and their ways wicked.

If threatening means ‘to give (signs or) warning of’, someone might try to make a case of this post for writing that the Chinese rebellion has been stifled - for the present; for portending that the rebellion is possible in future.

The last, but not the least is the almost hilarious, stunning and frivolous inclusion of the world ‘objectionable’.

What in this world is not objectionable to someone? 
  • My mom objects if I dress Bohemian. 
  • My nephew’s gaming 24x7 is objectionable to me.
  • My cockatiels object if my mom closes their cage before sundown.
  • Mr. Ratan Tata finds it objectionable to release Nira Radia Tapes.
  • Karima Kayek’s claims of bunga-bunga parties are objectionable to Mr. Berlusconi.

Apart from the actual wording, a blog is a blog - it is an expression of opinion, a commentary, a description of events, or a mixture of the three.  Thus to subject it to some laws which are meant to regulate an industry and commerce is simply misguided and short sighted.

Cartoons which appear daily in newspapers are far more pointed and prickly than what could be written on any subject by all the bloggers combined together - and almost all the newspapers and magazines are also e-published today and have been for many years now.  I’ve yet to hear of any cartoonist or a publisher of a cartoon being pulled up under any of the terms proposed in the amendments.

Take a look and tell me, could a blogger, any blogger, be more ‘in-your-face’ than this?

That was Sudhir Tailang on 10th March.

In case you wonder what Agent Orange has to do with this, I sort of linked the defoliant to the flower in ‘Jasmine Revolution’ and this amendment similarly would have unintended results.  Oh, yes, the background colour of the Blogger icon, too, is Orange.

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