Two years, one opinion

Re Chinmayi Arun’s Comment in The Hindu on February 16, ‘Using law to bully comedians‘ – the central argument of the piece has become such an overused trope. She invokes the heckler’s veto to defend the AIB roast against state bullying, but there’s nothing new as such in the piece apart from the application of this recently rediscovered catchphrase to a problem that’s been around for a while. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The Indian government already has a questionable track record in the context of blocking online content. The system followed to block content under the IT Act is opaque — it neither notifies speakers and readers that content has been blocked, nor permits intermediaries to disclose what content the government has asked them to block. If speakers and readers have no way of finding out that the government has ordered the blocking of particular speech, they will not be able to challenge the government’s decision to censor before the judiciary. This means that the judiciary will not be able to check whether the government is using its power to block online content consistently with the Constitution. This lack of accountability leaves the system open to government misuse to block politically threatening speech.

This was the argument in early 2013. This appears to be the argument in early 2015. Has nothing changed? Have we accepted defeat at the hands of the heckler? It seems we’re sure of everything about this kind of issues that no one seems to be able to take the conversation forward. To be sure, Arun’s arguments are not factually incorrect but her piece’s crux can be summed up in a tweet. And I want to give experts like her the benefit of the doubt and say there are some nuances I’m missing. My question is, what’s next? Why aren’t we talking about what could come after? It has always been easier to talk about things that are broken – I’ve been guilty of that, too – but to be able to think a solution hasn’t been forthcoming from anybody willing to be vocal is disappointing.

Further, through all of this, there is also an onus on the publisher, as a willing constructor of public opinion, to present developments that can be pieced and assimilated together instead of as items that pop up once in a while, as if pertaining to disparate incidents and not one common kind of abuse. Repackaging the content will drive home the similarity better.

Note: The hyperlinked article for the line “This was the argument in early 2013” has been changed from one of my pieces to one of Chinmayi Arun’s earlier pieces. The text has also been edited for clarity. March 22, 2015