Arun Jaitley's advocate, Pratibha Singh has sent a legal notice to blogger Prashant Panday and Arun Jaitley has posted it on his personal website as well. The blogger had made certain accusations about Jaitley's finances.
I think this is a good thing. Not the practice of sending notices to bloggers to shut them up, but the act of a politician challenging accusations of corruption himself without letting them fester and blow up into rumor mills. Of course, exposing corruption runs the risk of angering people, and a legal notice serves nicely as a weapon to try and get a corruption expose taken offline. We saw it on my blog when I got a notice over an expose I had made. So it is not as if I don't understand what happens to the blogger who cannot afford to fight legal battles.
Firstly, I believe that blogging is conversations. It is an important voice for people, but there is no logic in assuming a blogger is always correct or in dismissing the harm done to a person who is on the receiving end of bad publicity. Asserting a blogger's right to say whatever he wants regardless of the consequences to another is not a responsible call, in my opinion. Particularly when the article is published in a newspaper. As the notice states, it was published on the Times of India website as well as getting picked by a newspaper in Tripura. The Times of India piece seems to be taken down, but the Tripura one is still available online. There is no telling where else it has spread, since newspaper content does spread like wildfire.
While I am against the arbitrary imposition of a 48 hour deadline for taking down content that can be imposed by anyone at large, I am not against demanding accountability from content itself. There is no such thing as the right to slander. And inventing it will be dangerous to a country that thrives on polarization, not to mention the overall quality of information where stakes are high. This is a stand I have taken fairly consistently regardless of which political party is accused or doing the accusing.
A whistleblower ought to have documents that back up his accusations, without which it becomes malicious gossip. And the hate between political parties as well as parties basing their entire existence on anticorruption is such that a person with proofs against a politician getting a legal notice cannot be silenced as easily. Worse, the internet smelling injustice has a way of decimating attempts to silence it. The content targetted for removal would get a wider audience instead. Unlike the common man of India, the common netizen of India isn't that easily silenced.
Even in the case where the issue is not as high TRP as a politician, a whistleblower who has proofs can simply present them as proof that he is not defaming. It is not defamation if you can prove it true. My reply to the notice had presented the sources for my claims and the matter ended there. I did take down the original post for fear of legal harrassment, but I believe that if I had the time (which I don't, for personal circumstances), I could also have defended it in court, which is something that is highly unlikely to pan out if your expose is genuine. No one wants to prove themselves corrupt to avoid a blogpost.
Now look at the rest of the scene. Politicians are ganging up to avoid RTI into political parties. Our sources of accurate information are severely restricted. In such a situation, a legal notice such as this actually helps clarify the issue, in my opinion. There are claims the person is making on record. If those can be proved wrong, the whole matter becomes much simpler - in the case of a corrupt politician. If the notice makes explanations that make the sources of the accusation of corruption wrong in some manner, then it is a clarification got at relatively less effort. In any case, the accused person responding to the accusation on record has to be a plus if the objective is against corruption rather than a PR war.
Also, I think given the deteriorating standards of journalism, demanding accountability from content that can make or break the reputation of a politician in the run up to elections is hardly unreasonable. I hope that this sets off a flurry of notices against mass media by politicians who would like to set the record straight. This is also what I thought about the allegations of US citizenship of our new RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. These things must be on record and clear as a matter of transparency. It should not be a matter of either silencing a blogger/journalist or defending a politician.
In my view such actions will be very welcome in today's vile political scenario which thrives on disinformation and mud singing. They will help the common man separate manipulation from facts and empower democracy.
In my view, politicians themselves addressing accusations of corruption with any visibility will go a long way toward getting some answers while we figure out how to get the RTI working.