‘India Not censoring social media’

0
262

February 16, 2012

MUMBAI: India does not intend to censor online social networks such as Facebook, a minister said Tuesday, but he demanded that they obey the same rules governing the press and other media.

“I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media,” Telecoms Minister Kapil Sibal said at an IT summit in Mumbai.

February 16, 2012

MUMBAI: India does not intend to censor online social networks such as Facebook, a minister said Tuesday, but he demanded that they obey the same rules governing the press and other media.

“I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media,” Telecoms Minister Kapil Sibal said at an IT summit in Mumbai.

“I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so.But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country,” Sibal told the gathering.

Sibal held a number of meetings with leading Internet companies late last year in which he asked about the possibility of checking content before it is posted online by users.

The minister was said to have shown Internet executives examples of obscene images found on the Internet that risked offending Muslims or defaming politicians, including the boss of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.

“The media reported that I had said I wanted to pre-screen the content on social media. I have never even heard the word pre-screen,” he said at the summit.

Since these meetings, 19 Internet firms including Google, Yahoo! and Facebook have been targeted in criminal and civil cases lodged in lower New Delhi courts, holding them responsible for content posted by users of their platforms.

The Indian government has given its sanction for the firms to be tried for serious crimes such as fomenting religious hatred and spreading social discord, offences that could land company directors in prison.

“All I want is that they (social media) should follow the laws of the land.

Social media must not consider itself to be above that,” Sibal said.

Google and Facebook said earlier this month that they had removed the allegedly offensive content used as evidence in the court cases.

The groups have appealed to the Delhi High Court asking for the cases against them to be quashed on the basis that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of their clients.

The comments of a judge hearing the case raised further fears that freedom of expression online could be restricted.

“You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites,” the judge said during a hearing in January.

Facebook is banned in China and Google moved its operations out of the country in 2010 in protest at censorship laws there.

The debate about social networks mirrors a larger national dialogue about freedom of speech in the world’s biggest democracy following recent protests by religious groups.

Indian-origin writer Salman Rushdie was prevented from speaking at a literature festival last month after Muslim groups protested against his presence over his allegedly blasphemous 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses.”A group led by an author and journalist Nilanjana Roy organised public readings of banned literary works on Monday as a way of protest against what they said were recent curbs on intellectual freedom.

The initiative, called “Flashreads for free speech”, was widely advertised on social networks including Twitter and Facebook he says, "with nothing in between."