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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

FIFTY FIFTY
The incredible shrinking Opposition
There is barely a year left for the next elections, and perhaps it is about time the BJP tried for an image makeover, and started thoughtful interaction with various sections of society to find a connection with the electorate. And so should all other parties.
Kishwar Desai
Y
EAR 2012 has been described as the one when finally the slothful middle class in India, the Twitterati and the Facebookers all realised the joys of 'revolution'. Most of the 'revolution' took place in Delhi in the square mile of India Gate and occasionally Jantar Mantar and Ram Lila maidan, egged on by eager TV anchors and the 'virtual' revolutionaries, armed with laptops.

guest column
TV versus social media: The rights and wrongs
For most ordinary Netizens, everyday speech on social media has as much impact as graffiti in a toilet, and therefore employing the 'principle of equivalence' will result in overregulation of new media.
Sunil Abraham
M
ANY in traditional media, especially television, look at social media with a mixture of envy and trepidation. They have been at the receiving end of various unsavoury characters online and consequently support regulation of social media. A common question asked by television anchors is "shouldn't they be subject to the same regulation as us?"


SUNDAY SPECIALS

OPINIONS
PERSPECTIVE
PEOPLE
KALEIDOSCOPE

GROUND ZERO


EARLIER STORIES

Partial diesel decontrol
January 19, 2013
Pre-budget lobbying
January 18, 2013
Chautala hits a wall
January 17, 2013
PMís tough message
January 16, 2013
Haryana Speakerís verdict
January 15, 2013
Deepening water crisis
January 14, 2013
Malice my livelihood, bear no ill-will
January 13, 2013
Judicial overreach, again
January 12, 2013
Pak designs
January 11, 2013
Pak Armyís barbaric act
January 10, 2013


ground zero
Manmohanís message to Pakistan, Ďdonít mess with usí
The Prime Minister took a calculated risk of raising the stakes with Pakistan because in any case India expects no progress in its relations with its neighbour till the general elections are over this summer.
Raj Chengappa
As the heat over the LoC incident in Jammu and Kashmir begins to cool down with Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid saying he is willing to consider the offer of Hina Rabbani Khar, his Pakistan counterpart, for a dialogue on the subject, itís a good time to take stock of whether Indiaís response was adequate and appropriate.





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FIFTY FIFTY
The incredible shrinking Opposition
There is barely a year left for the next elections, and perhaps it is about time the BJP tried for an image makeover, and started thoughtful interaction with various sections of society to find a connection with the electorate. And so should all other parties.
Kishwar Desai

Kishwar DesaiYEAR 2012 has been described as the one when finally the slothful middle class in India, the Twitterati and the Facebookers all realised the joys of 'revolution'. Most of the 'revolution' took place in Delhi in the square mile of India Gate and occasionally Jantar Mantar and Ram Lila maidan, egged on by eager TV anchors and the 'virtual' revolutionaries, armed with laptops. But it has been enough to make the ruling party nervous because these images projected a restless poorly governed country when beamed around the world. Or so the government thinks. Used to a placid, urban electorate, they have forgotten that this is the normal price one pays for democracy.

Fortunately, the message has gone across to the UPA, and the Congress is now in serious damage control, meeting in Jaipur to present itself as the misunderstood saviour. Obviously, it will say it has all the answers and will persist in presenting them till the people get the message. The advantage of being in the government is that the Congress-led UPA can actually make some visible and tangible changes.

However, at least the Congress is responding to the stimulus provided by the people and we even heard the party focused on gender issues at the Chintan Shivir. It is a long overdue acknowledgement of a festering sore.

CHINTAN SHIVIR: The Congress is responding to the stimulus by the protesting middle class
CHINTaN SHIVIR: The Congress is responding to the stimulus by the protesting middle class.

Yet, at a time like this, one would have hoped that all small and large parties, especially those in the Opposition, would have also become more introspective. And that they would have come out with their own gender policies, as well as suggestions on economic and political reform. Instead of merely reacting to the Congress, it is about time that fresh thinking and ideas were put forth by everyone in the political space. Frankly, while we all criticise Rahul Gandhi and his youth recruitment drive, one hears very little about how other parties are attempting internal reform. Even if Mr Gandhi hasn't managed to wave a magic wand, and is no longer terribly youthful himself, at least he is trying hard to get people to join the family firm.

And then there is the question of party leadership. It has to be admitted that the present leader of the Congress, Ms Sonia Gandhi, has a proven track record, and despite all sorts of claims by her detractors, no one has been able to find any kind of misdemeanour against her. There were accusations about her son-in-law, but one is mystified how quickly the issue has disappeared.

The same cannot be said for the contender for the BJP top job, Mr Nitin Gadkari, alas. His woes regarding Purti seem to be endless, with questions and stories popping up every now and then. The fear now is that even if he is re-elected, the Opposition space will be lost once again because more time will be spent on proving his innocence than in generating a positive buzz for the BJP. There is barely a year left for the next elections, and perhaps it is about time the BJP tried for an image makeover, and started thoughtful interaction with various sections of society to find a connection with the electorate, and what people want from their representatives. Instead of one 'Shivir' in which everything under the sun is sorted out, the BJP could even launch a series of dialogues with civil society on communal issues, women, and economic reform. It could start to become more inclusive.

And so should all other parties, including the regional, caste-oriented parties that hope to play a national role. Instead of just being appendages to the main national party, it would be great if we heard more from parties such as the JD (U), SAD, AIADMK, the TMC and the Left parties, on what they would do if they were next part of a national government. Why do ideas have to wait for an election to be announced? Don't they also want to start a debate about changing the 'system'? And don't they want to listen to an increasingly restless and aspirational 'aam aadmi' and 'aurat'? The reality is the Internet revolutionaries are still disengaged. The anger appears to be unrepresented by any particular political party and even the Aam Aadmi Party cannot claim their allegiance.

In this atmosphere, the BJP, the main opposition, which could have swept the hustings, seems unable to grab the advantage, unless it rejuvenates itself. It is hardly likely the electorate would be so tired of the Congress they would walk like zombies to the polling booth and cast their vote for the BJP. That is merely wishful thinking.

But all political parties need to shed their inertia. One can only hope there will be a positive energy in all of them as they look ahead to the next election, competing with new ideas for change, led by individuals who are untouched by any scam. We need a good ruling party, but an equally strong and talented Opposition as well.

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guest column
TV versus social media: The rights and wrongs
For most ordinary Netizens, everyday speech on social media has as much impact as graffiti in a toilet, and therefore employing the 'principle of equivalence' will result in overregulation of new media.
Sunil Abraham

Sunil AbrahamMANY in traditional media, especially television, look at social media with a mixture of envy and trepidation. They have been at the receiving end of various unsavoury characters online and consequently support regulation of social media. A common question asked by television anchors is "shouldn't they be subject to the same regulation as us?" This is because they employ the 'principle of equivalence', according to which speech that is illegal on broadcast media should also be illegal on social media and vice versa. According to this principle, criticising a bandh on national TV or in a newspaper op-ed or on social media should not result in jail time and, conversely, publishing obscene content, in either new or old media, should render you a guest of the state.

Given that Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, places more draconian and arguably unconstitutional limits on free speech when compared to the regulation of traditional and broadcast media, those in favour of civil liberties may be tempted to agree with the 'principle of equivalence' since that will mean a great improvement from status quo. However, we must remember that this compromise goes too far since potential for harm through social media is usually very limited when compared to traditional media, especially when it comes to hate speech, defamation and infringement of privacy. A Facebook update or 'like' or a tweet from an ordinary citizen usually passes completely unnoticed. On rare occasion, an expression on social media originating from an ordinary citizen goes viral and then the potential for harm increases dramatically. But since this is the fringe case we cannot design policy based on it. On the other hand, public persons (those occupying public office and those in public life), including television journalists, usually have tens and hundreds of thousands friends and followers on these social networks and, therefore, can more consistently cause harm through their speech online. For most ordinary Netizens, everyday speech on social media has as much impact as graffiti in a public or residential toilet and therefore employing the 'principle of equivalence' will result in overregulation of new media.

Ideally speech regulation should address the asymmetries in the global attention economy by constantly examining the potential for harm. This applies to both 'speech about' public persons and also 'speech by' them. Since 'speech about' public persons is necessary for transparent and accountable governance and public discourse, such speech must be regulated less than 'speech about' ordinary citizens. Let us understand this using two examples: One, a bunch of school kids referring to a classmate as an idiot on a social network is bullying, but citizens using the very same term to criticise a minister or television anchor must be permitted. Two, an ordinary citizen should be allowed to photograph or video-record the acts of a film or sports star at a public location and upload it to a social network, but this exception to the right of privacy based on public interest will not imply that the same ordinary citizen can publish photographs or videos of other ordinary citizens. Public scrutiny and criticism is part of the price to be paid for occupying public office or public life. If speech regulation is configured to prevent damage to the fragile egos of public persons, then it would have a chilling effect on many types of speech that are critical in a democracy and an open society.

When it comes to 'speech by' those in public office or in public life - given the greater potential for harm - they should be held more liable for their actions online. For example, an ordinary citizen with less than 100 followers causes very limited harm to the reputation of a particular person through a defamatory tweet. However, if the very same tweet is retweeted by a television anchor with millions of followers, there can be more severe damage to that particular person's reputation.

Many in television also wish to put an end to anonymous and pseudonymous speech online. They would readily agree with Nandan Nilekani's vision of tagging all - visits to the cyber cafe, purchases of broadband connections and SIM cards and, therefore, all activities from social media accounts with the UID number. I have been following coverage of the Aadhaar project for the past three years. Often I see a 'senior official from the UIDAI' make a controversial point. If anonymous speech is critical to protect India's identity project then surely it is an important form of speech. But, unlike the print media, which more regularly uses anonymous sources for their stories, television doesn't see clearly the connection between anonymous speech and free media. This is because many of the trolls that harass them online often hide behind pseudonymous identities. Television forgets that anonymous speech is at the very foundation of our democracy, i.e., the electoral ballot.

The writer is executive director, Centre for Internet and Society

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