Can't take free speech for granted in India!

IN Media Freedom | 03/05/2011
Since January, one journalist has been killed, and nine others attacked.Besides, there is the blocking of 11 websites, telephone taps, hate speech on Facebook and the censorship of books and film.
The FREE SPEECH HUB evaluates freedom of speech and expression in India.
Press Release For World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd
From the Free Speech Hub of
Free Speech in India, 2011—An Update
May 1, 2011
In India in 2011 freedom of speech and expression cannot be taken for granted.  Attacks on journalists and intimidation of editors and writers continued unabated.  Websites were blocked without notice or explanation. And in April the Government of India notified rules to the amended Information Technology Act 2000 that give sweeping powers to the government to intercept, monitor and block websites. They also pressure intermediaries such as service providers on electronic content.
Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Free Speech Tracker set up last year by the Free Speech Hub to monitor all instances of violations of freedom of speech and expression, evaluates the precarious nature of this vital freedom.
Since January one journalist has been killed, and there have been nine other attacks on journalists. There have been six instances of intimidation of journalists and writers, the blocking of 11 websites, telephone taps on politicial leaders and civil society activists, hate speech on Facebook, the social networking site, and censorship of books and film.
Chhattisgarh and Orissa continue to be the most difficult states for journalists. In Chhattisgarh, journalists are discouraged or actively prevented from entering and reporting from areas where Maoists and security forces are in conflict.  In January a Nai Dunia reporter was killed. Journalists of local newspapers are threatened by organisations close to the state-sponsored militia, the Salwa Judum and have either lost their jobs or are pressured to leave for safer assignments.
In Orissa, in the first quarter of 2011, four attacks and two cases of intimidation have taken place. The entry of political clout in media, mining, businesses and education has pitted them against local people  contesting land takeovers. Biju Janata Dal workers were involved in two of these cases. (details below.)
A white paper published by a Bhubaneshwar-based journalist body, the Media Unity for Freedom of the Press in February this year recorded at least 30 instances of attacks on journalists in the last five years. A Free Speech Hub investigation into attacks on journalists in Orissa between January and July 2010 had recorded more than 12 attacks and six instances of intimidation.
Cases of attack or intimidation:
In barely four months, the Free Speech Tracker recorded 10 instances of attacks on or intimidation of journalists, including the death of Umesh Rajput, a journalist for Hindi newspaper Nai Dunia on January 23 in Chhattisgarh, the investigation for which is still on.
Rajat Ranjan Das, a reporter of Sambad daily, sustained fractures and head injuries by alleged supporters of Saikh Babu, a ruling Biju Janata Dal leader from Pipili, Orissa in February.
In the same month MBC TV reporter Kiran Kanungo and cameraperson Prasant Jena were roughed up by a group of BJD workers in Banki. And, in a separate incident the same day, OTV reporter NM Baisakh and his cameraman Anup Ray were beaten up by anti-social elements in Paradeep when they were covering a protest dharna outside the IOCL main gate by local people demanding jobs and compensation.
Besides, there were six instances of intimidation of journalists across the country, including that of Bikash Swain, the publisher of Suryaprava, an Odiya daily by police, following a series of adverse reports that he published. Last September, Swain was arrested by police and protests by journalists about vindictive action by police have obviously failed to have an effect.
On January 3, Sudhir Dhawale, dalit activist and editor of Vidrohi, a Marathi magazine, was arrested and charged with sedition and links with Maoists. 
In January, Somanath Sahu, reporter of ‘Dharitri', was prevented from attending a press conference at the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police at Saheed Nagar and threatened of dire consequences for writing reports that went against the police.
In January, Mumbai-based columnist Anish Trivedi was sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine for allegedly making casteist remarks in a column on caste-based reservations, published in the tabloid, Mid-Day in April 2006.
In February, an NDTV team of journalists and camera crew were harassed and illegally detained allegedly by staff belonging to the Adani group when the were filming  a report on the large-scale destruction of mangroves in Mundra, Gujarat, due to the construction of a port by the company.
Judiciary provides succour
Even as free speech remained under attack, the country’s apex court continued to provide relief, as is evident in the observations of Justices H S Bedi and C K Prasad on sedition as they granted bail to Dr Binayak Sen. The justices said that no case of sedition was made out against him and that he was not guilty of sedition, even if he was a sympathiser of Naxalites or merely possessed literature or documents about Naxalite activity.  
Internet and electronic privacy fears
The precarious state of freedom of speech and expression over the internet is clearly evident from the blocking of websites. Also  from the rules framed under the amended Information Technology Act 2000 governing interception, monitoring and blocking of electronic information, restrictive regulations for intermediaries and cyber cafe owners. These were notified in April this year.
In February, cybermedia activists noted that four sites, Typepad, Mobango, Zone-H and Clickatell, were blocked by a few ISPs, ostensibly on an order from the Department of Telecom. Following a Right to Information (RTI) application by the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, it was learnt that eleven websites were blocked by the Department of Information Technology. Two of the blocked sites were grassroots news sites and another was a bloggernews site which carried an article on a dispute between security site Zone-H and the Hyderabad-based E2Labs.
There are a number of unanswered questions on the manner in which these blocks were executed, including the authorities who ordered the blocks, the lack of transparency in blocking the sites and the recommendations of a legally-appointed committee to examine requests for blocking of sites.
Besides, fears of invasions of privacy and the tapping of telephones of politicians, leaders of civil society agitations against the nuclear power plant in Jaitapur and businesspeople alike, have only contributed to apprehensions of a surveillance state.
In January, Research in Motion, makers of the smartphone Blackberry, offered a security solution whereby Indian agencies can now monitor BlackBerry's messenger and public email services, but not corporate emails. However, in the absence of any response from the Union government, the issue remains in limbo.
Censorship of books and film
The censorship of books and film continued as the Gujarat government banned Joseph Lelyveld's controversial book, ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His struggle with India’ and a number of commercial Hindi films ran into conflict over certification with the Central Board of Film Certification.
Hindi filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar vainly protested an ‘A’ certification for his film ‘Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji’.
 ‘Sengadal’, Leena Manimecklai’s part-documentary, part-fictionalised film on the lives of fisherfolk off the Sri Lankan coast was denied a certificate.
Television programmes also came in for flak and a complaint against the television programme Emotional Atyachar for airing allegedly objectionable content was taken up by the Delhi High Court in February.
However, there were some bright spots in this contentious scenario, such  as the award of the certificate for Shabnam Virmani’s  documentary on Kabir by Justice S Murlidhar of the Delhi High Court on March 9, firmly setting aside objections that the film would fuel communal disharmony. There was also the decision of the Centre not to ban Lelyveld’s book on Gandhi.
Hate Speech
In February, the use of a Facebook group to post abusive messages against Dalit leader Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar led to violence in parts of Mumbai, Maharashtra and the blocking of the facebook page, while another FIR (first information report) was filed against Facebook in Lucknow for another hate group on Mahatma Gandhi.
For youth, especially students, the consequences of freely posting opinions against those in authority on the social networking site, continues to pose a challenge, evident from the suspension of yet another student for abusing his school Principal in Mumbai, Maharashtra, the third such incident in the last two years.
Other Legal amendments and restrictions continued to crop up and erode press freedom. Newspaper publishers expressed fears that proposed amendments to the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 are restrictive and the order on cessation of publication an infringement on press freedoms.
All this nothwithstanding, the government made some effort to address concerns about violations of freedom of speech and expression. These included the announcement of the formation of a self-regulating body for broadcast media and the decision to set up a committee to address apprehensions of privacy invasions by the use of body scanners.
The government also announced new phone tapping norms and, in April, announced that phone taps would not be allowed for investigating tax evasions, a change from its earlier stance in the context of the Radia tapes and the investigation into the 2G scam.
Union Law minister Veerappa Moily’s statement that there was a need to take a  relook at sedition laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s observations as it granted bail to Dr Binayak Sen, was also a major step forward.
Whether the government will walk its talk remains to be seen.
To access complete list of Free Speech Tracker items for 2010 and the first quarter of 2011:
To access our report ‘Free Speech in India 2010: One step forward, two steps backward’, click here
To access latest articles on these issues, please see this page:
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More