The Fiefdom Of Speech?
Touching upon the beliefs of renowned historian, writer and philosopher – Voltaire, in her magnum opus titled, ‘The Friends of Voltaire’, author Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the famous lines, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This phrase is often cited to define the essence of the democratic principle – ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ – which has increasingly become an area of concern these days.
While our Constitution states that all citizens shall have the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, this Right is subject to limitations which empowers the State to put up ‘reasonable’ restrictions on various grounds, including Public Order, Decency and Morality, Contempt of Court, Defamation, Incitement of Offence, India’s Integrity and Sovereignty, State Security and Foreign Diplomacy.
In this technology-driven age, Social Media Platforms (SMP) greatly empower this Right and are progressively pivotal to both – asserting as well as abusing the Freedom of Speech. Which is why it’s difficult to state with absolute certainty, if some of the recent actions taken by the GoI are ‘reasonable’ enough, especially in keeping with news reports claiming how employees of a certain SMP have been threatened with imprisonment for restoring accounts which the Government wants blocked. Be it views about the ongoing farmers’ protest or clamping down on voices from other sectors which do not toe the mandated lines of the preferred ‘nationalistic’ flavour, it feels more like the ‘Fiefdom’ of Speech, as opposed to the ‘Freedom’ of Speech.
That said, there is no denying the need for a greater sense of responsibility as this Constitutional Right is often grossly misused and abused on SMPs and elsewhere, by uninformed masses or those with malicious intent, resulting in adverse consequences. There’s a similar need for greater accountability and consideration, when we blindly forward unverified and coloured content on SMPs and WhatsApp, which proves harmful to all in the long run. Surely, we can do better than that – as a community and as a country.
Have a good weekend!