The freedom of speech and expression is said to be the mother of all liberties. This right is recognized as a basic human right and is a constitutional guarantee in India.
Unlike the United Sates constitution, the freedom of the press is not found expressly mentioned in the Indian constitution. However, ‘press freedom’ has been culled out by the Indian judiciary as the country needs an informed citizenry. An informed and educated polity is essential for a healthy and vibrant democracy.
However, the power and duty to sell news is vested in the hands of a few groups. News can be suppressed and manipulated by these groups. The reporting can be biased and selective.
People – The Supreme Power
This country belongs to its people. The people are supreme. The opening words of the Indian constitution “We, the people” speaks volumes about it. The people of this country want a change. There is a huge expectation from the leaders and political class of this country. There is anger, disappointment and frustration as regards the state of affairs in the country.
Last year, the country witnessed the civil society coming out voluntarily in large numbers seeking a strong Lokpal bill to end corruption. It was the youth of this country who supported and participated in the movement. They used the internet and social media to plan and organize this massive movement.
The Lokpal campaign, made the government realize that news can no longer be hidden. Issues which the main stream media ignored and suppressed were discussed and debated on the social media networks. The movement demonstrated the power of social media. Undoubtedly, Internet and social media has empowered the people. It has given a voice to voiceless.
The country wants the ‘corrupt’ and ‘criminals’ out of its governance system. The country wants the ‘right to call back’ the non-performing representatives. The ‘Young India’, which constitutes the largest chunk of the population, think and discuss over the internet. Internet and social media networks have provided a platform for the youth of this country to connect and communicate. They are building hopes and aspirations of a better future. They are positive and optimistic of a better tomorrow.
The people have the right to know and the freedom to think, discuss, debate and criticize. They have a right to agree and disagree on issues.
We find reflections of all these thoughts on the internet and social media.
Free speech on the Internet
Art. 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Internet has been recognized as a human right by the United Nations. Some nations have even recognized the right to internet as a fundamental right.
While the internet provides the facility for every person to speak his mind and engage in a dialogue, the Indian Government has devised a strategy of ‘invisible censorship’ to curb discussions on the internet. The government has introduced laws to arbitrarily block, ban and censor content. The corrupt ones in power fear the internet. Yes, and that’s how it should be. The people should not fear the government; instead the government should fear the people.
The country has been protesting against the undemocratic internet rules for more than a year now. (Read here and here) The international hacker collective, Anonymous in its phase II operation, (Read #OpRTI) has urged citizens to file applications under the right to information Act, 2005 and bring out every possible detail of the censoring activity taking place.
The fight for freedom of speech on the internet is a fight against the current establishment controlled by a few groups. The recognition of this right will transform every citizen into a publisher and broadcaster. The people are going to reign supreme and enjoy democracy in its real meaning.
The lassitude and lethargy on the part of the government in recognizing this right is thus understandable.
Shojan Jacob is an advocate. He holds a post graduation in Cyber Laws and Information security. He has challenged the internet censorship rules in the Kerala High Court. Read more on that Here and Here