People are up in arms over the Indian government's decision to block `objectionable' sites and blogs. And rightfully so. However in doing so, I think many of us are missing the point by miles. To address the issue, you've got to define it. My sense is that many have failed to do so. Let me try !

The 20 Sites/Blogs Or Something Else ?

What are we protesting ? Are we saying there is a freedom of speech/expression issue because 20 sites have been blocked ? In which case, we should protest when Da Vinci Code gets banned in some states, books like Satanic Verses get banned or for that matter Shivaji's biography. Or MF Hussain's painting. Of course there are many more books, paintings and movies which have been banned and not just because they are harmful to minors.

My point is you can't keep quiet for one form of content and get all roiled just because it gets delivered digitally. A digital delivery (if you ask me) does not make it any less `bannable', at least in principle. Yes of course you can download lots of other stuff which is banned in the physical world. But that's a reverse argument and may not work here !

So, if you are with your government on the fundamental issue of banning, or have not protested in the past, then you've got to pipe down. Else, protest all forms of bans on all forms of content.

Technical Incompetence

The Government wants 20 sites to be banned. It sends out a notice to some 150 internet service providers asking them to do as much. Between their technological incompetence and their enthusiasm to please the Department of Telecom, many ISPs banned access to all sites with some extensions, blogspot being one example.

Now, that has nothing to do with freedom of expression. That is plain incompetence and a technical inability to manage firewalls and gateways. Am sure the Government has nothing to do with it. Nor does it want to. Yes, its order has resulted in the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. But its unintentional as I see it.

The guy you have to catch is your ISP who needs to ensure he blocks only those sites that the Government has asked him to. This takes a little hard work from what I understand. But then, its nothing to do with a clampdown on freedom of speech.

Once again, the ISP could be the overzealous MTNL or BSNL, going all out to keep some bureaucrat/politician happy. But that still does not alter the fundamental fact. That's not what the order is asking for. So, protesting in the general direction of the government is pointless.

Now, Does It Merit A Ban ?

Now comes the issue of merit. Is a website that is vaguely attacking Left leaning political parties elsewhere in the world harmful to our digestive process. Am not sure. Is a website that directly or indirectly urges anti-national forces to rally together harmful ? Yes it is. Should we let it be in the interests of complete freedom of speech. Am not sure. You need a very, very liberal approach for this. In any case, this is a separate debate.

Either way, it boils down to a discussion on whether the content on a certain platform (in this case digital) is subversive or dangerous ? It could be magazines, newspapers, films, books or paintings. And what should be done about it. That again is a larger issue which needs to be tackled separately. It has little to do with blogs or websites. Both are delivery platforms for information and opinion. So, lets not make this is a blogs and websites issue. Focus on the fundamental issue if you want to and/or have the energy to. Till then, happy blogging.

PS: My ISP seems to have held on to his horses, at least so far


Why not protest? The government wanted a few pages to be blocked on the internet, but ISPs chose to block the whole domain, so whereas they should have blocked some blog like, they instead blocked the whole - that is where the right to speech comes in. As you know editorials are just a thing of past in this digital age, and if someone has some opinions about the government, they just write it on their blog. But now, people cannot read these. You are lucky that your ISP hasn't blocked it (yet). But, most ISPs are blocking these sites.
The real problem is not that the government decided to block a few pages on the internet. The ISPs are just taking shortcuts as they know that there is no regulatory (yet) like TRAI that would not punish them for doing so. And that's what the real problem is. If India needs to censor the internet content, specially blogs, then there has to be some regulatory or policy on how these things are done, so the net neutrality is maintained, and other "clean" pages, sites, blogs like yours and mine and still accessible.
I do agree with you that we just can't protest about certain pages being blocked, because national security definitely comes first. And, I totally disagree with people comparing India's net censoring to China, the difference being, that China blocks sites that defame the government itself, whereas, India (so far atleast) has only blocked pages which are threat to India's national security.
Anonymous said…
If a book, painting is banned/burned, the artist who creates the content is responsible for ensuring that he has the right to freedom of speech; you cant ask society in toto to uphold what is one mans perspective. The net is meant to be without boundaries and a log is self publishied, making you the author and giving you the responsibility of maintaining your opinion. If something does happen to persuade a change in this policy, its going to be because of a collective of individuals and not A Rushdie or A Hussein. The offline and online condition, imho, are two different situations, banning atoms can be socially justified because in material form, the symbol can be demonized. Banning bits or access to them on the other hand is drowning freedom of speech.
There are two to blame, the government in it's stupidity in trying to do something that cannot be done, blogs and any other site including hate sites can be accessed by anyone, anywhere.

Secondly the equally stupid ISP's who are incompetent and blocked all and sundry. Curtailing freedom of speech, you bet, whether it is because of incompetence or because it was intentional.

Should we make a noise about it? in my opinion, YES. Make a big noise, the government and the fools that man the controls need to get a little more educated about the ways of the World. The ISP's need to grow some spine. They did not block your blog, good for you. They did mine and I was pissed. It is still blocked. All I do is try to make India look good,mostly overseas. But, I am blocked along with the rest of the maniacs who will find innumerable ways of getting their hate meesages across. So, GOI it seems is trying to cure a headache by chopping the head off. Shooting blanks. Shooting in the dark, choose whatever.

GOI is now embarrased says NDTV online and each department is blaming the other, we have fancy ministries including one for IT! Do we need such portfolios from people who don't even know what blogging is, perhaps? Waste of tax payer money.

The level of incompetence from GOI and ISP's come off looking like we belong to a Banana Republic where knee jerk reactions are the order of the day and flip flopping on issues is the norm.
Anonymous said…
Govind, I have been disgusted with the media coverage of the Bombay blasts and the aftermath. First we had the Bombay spirit which should have clearly been a side human interest story and we didn’t focus on the lack of security. A column in Business Standard on this issue was spot on. Then we had the siren-minutes silence and the press as usual lapped up the cosmetic measure taken by our government to divert us from the real issue of the sad fact that a week later, we still don’t have any answers. Now, it’s the blogging world up in arms about gagging our freedom. These are the issues that need to be covered alright, but is our press being diverted from our real jobs of finding what, why and where are the cops, the politicians and the people who need to make us secure? Are we and our front pages, our TV headlines lapping up what the government is distracting us with?
Shankar Iyer said…
Hey Govind u shd read the reaction of the head of the government agency which has asked the ISP's to ban/block the blogs...he said somebody has asked some one to do it..Is it how the press is replied to in a democracy. Agreed u made ur point well on who is at fault, but the government now is not trying anything to rectify the situation.
Paras Shah said…
I agree with ur point that its not related with freedom of speech.

We people must understand that it was technical error from ISPs side.

I m not giving cleanchit to government. But this case is no way related with freedom of speech.
Unknown Indian said…
OF course we need to protest. Not just at the error that blocked Dateline Bombay, but also at the blocking of the 20 odd sites - ostensibly on the grounds of preventing terror attacks, when most of them actually are rants against Muslim terrorists. The govt. of course has given free publicity to all of them - the ones that were still working (accessed thru a proxy) were all fairly innocuous in my view, and certainly do not pose a threat to national security.

On your other pt - the bans on the DVC, Satanic Verses etc. all represent the same statist attitude of our government, which seems keen on converting India into a communofascist state.
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