Press freedom rank for India drops from 105 in 2009 to 131 last year
Following are excerpts from a Washington Post article titled “India debates limits to freedom of expression”
From Google to Facebook, from world-famous author Salman Rushdie to a little-known political cartoonist, it has become increasingly easy in recent months to offend the Indian government, and to incur the wrath of the censor or even the threat of legal action.
In the world’s largest democracy, many Indians say freedom of expression is under attack, and along with it the values of pluralism and tolerance that have bound this nation of 1.2 billion people together since independence from Britain more than 64 years ago.
India’s democracy is nothing if not raucous. The huge array of newspapers and 24-hour television news channels are often vociferous in their criticism of politicians. But the media’s determination to root out corruption in the past two years has prompted a backlash. Talk of more stringent regulation is mounting.
… perhaps the most shocking episode for advocates of freedom of expression has been the government’s attempt to muzzle Facebook and Google — and prosecute the companies’ executives — for content posted on their sites deemed to be offensive. “Like China, we can block all such Web sites,” warned the judge hearing the case in the Delhi High Court.
The government cites images insulting to one or another of India’s religions, content it says could provoke unrest. It is up to social media sites, the government says, to manually screen and censor all potentially offensive content or face prosecution.
…Sunil Abraham at the Center for Internet and Society says the government’s proposals on Web censorship would kill the vibrancy of the Internet in India. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales warned that they would scare off investors and crush the country’s potential to become a true leader in the Internet industry.
The irony, according to critics, is that the concern over religiously offensive content was little more than an excuse: What appears to have really offended the ruling Congress party were defamatory images of their idolized leader, Sonia Gandhi.
“The myth that is spread is that the government is acting against hate speech and obscenity. But when the government acts to control information on the Internet, it is usually defamatory or potentially defamatory content against people and politicians,” Abraham said.
Almost a year ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the media were undermining the nation’s self-confidence by harping on official corruption. Since then, talk of tighter media regulation has grown louder.
And despite the vibrancy of India’s mainstream English-language media, the country’s ranking on the press freedom index of the journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has dropped, from 105th in 2009 to 131st last year.
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