Welcome decision by SC restricting the freedom of speech often absued by Blogger’s

Times of India reported that the case of a 19 year old blogger Ajith may forever change the way bloggers blog in India. To quote TOI,

“Bloggers may no longer express their uninhibited views on everything under the sun, for the Supreme Court said they may face libel and even prosecution for the blog content.

It will no longer be safe to start a blog and invite others to register their raunchy, caustic and even abusive comments on an issue while seeking protection behind the disclaimer – views expressed on the blog are that of the writers.”

In less than 24 hours from now you’d see an army of bloggers lamenting the death of their freedom of speech, some facebook group would be floated, every blogger would be asking one question, “can we do something about it? it would become a trending topic on Twitter and all the soldiers of blogsphere would do their best to save their ‘freedom of speech’ from being trampled under the feet of tyranny.

Uff spare me the drama I say.

I very much welcome this decision of Supreme Court and see this as a step ahead for Indian Blogsphere. This would help clean up a lot of shit that goes around the blogsphere, will help us become more responsible and mature writers thereby establishing credibility for bloggers’ opinion and most importantly it would kill the terrible habit of writing all kinds of indecent, uncivilized, abusive things anonymously in the comments thread. This would also compel the blog owner or community discussion board owner to keep the discussion clean and abuse free. It will enforce the dicipline of self regulation on bloggers, isn’t that a great thing to achieve.

I have not read the court order / judgment but from the TOI report it seems that Supreme Court has held the opinion that bloggers cannot be allowed to get away from charges of Libel, Slander, defamation etc on the ground that those are merely exercise of freedom of speech. The Court said, “if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.”   

To me this is very obvious and it is surprising that the Court had to actually spend its vluable time in answering a question which could have simply been asnwered by applying logic. What a mainstream media person cannot do via TV or print, a blogger is not allowed to do via internet. If a certain content falls within the defination of any of the crimes mentioned in IPC you cannot get away with it on the pretext of freedom of speech.  

The bloggers need to understand they are not beyond law. Blog is just another tool for expressing our thoughts and opinions. As a bloggers we are conferred upon exactly the same fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression that any other media has, and in the interest of democracy it is bound by the same reasonable restrictions which regulate any other form of media. Bloggers don’t have to go into frenzy every time there is the slightest incidence of regulation of their content. There is no need to be so insecure. Regulation of the content doesn’t by default mean that somebody is trying to take away their rights. Our Fundamental Rights are very strong and they can’t be taken away that easily. As long as you are writing responsibly and maturely there is no reason to be insecure about your freedom.

Bloggers already enjoy a lot of freedom of speech without any regulation. Most of the time if the blog is not popular the blogger would get away with any unconstitutional statement simply because no body cares to even read them. If however the content is from a blog that has good viewer ship or is so over the top, so obviously defamatory or slanderous that the police actually registers a criminal complaint against it, the blogger would have to face the proceedings. He is obviously within his rights to prove his innocence to the Court by providing sufficient evidence to support his opinions / accusations. But to assume that in my blog I can say or write anything against anybody without thinking twice about the consequences is rather immature.

Bloggers need to learn where do criticism end and direct accusation begin, they need to know that you can’t accuse some one unless you have valid proof in your hand. Same mistake was done by Mr. Kunte for which he faced legal threats from NDTV.

Insecure reactions have already started coming from the Bloggers / micro Bloggers community on Twitter. @knkarth says “this would help reduce reaction power of the blogging world n hand over it to the political parties? It’s sad.” When I said this decision will make us responsible and mature writers, @Sandipb asked me, “what exactly makes you feel that ‘responsible & mature’ writers are going to be spared after this precedent?” Some of the opinions acutually amuses me and establishes the point that you cannot just go about blabbing whatever comes to your mind without giving it a second thought, for eg @Gmishra says, “Who defines responsibility? or the border line! Does SC understands blogosphere good enough to judge us ?” This man can actually be booked under contempt of court for suggesting, Supreme Court is incapable of judging a case infront of it. He further says,  I don’t trust my legal system and that’s why i need more freedom.”

I see no reason to have such fears unless of course blogging to you means mindless irrational, irresponsible biased rants. No body is there waiting for an excuse to jump on Bloggers throat and slit it. This nation has more important issues to handle than to curb a handful of Bloggers freedom. If however they cross the line they’ll face the same consequences as faced by a journalist or writer or film maker etc.

29 thoughts on “Welcome decision by SC restricting the freedom of speech often absued by Blogger’s

  1. The point is that you are a good writer/blogger and have interest in journalism and also have studied law. So you think from the other point of view. I will tell you another point of view.

    IF someone wants to read all civilized decent stuff, they can go and read editorial pages of TOI or Hindu or any of the 1000 newspapers published in India. It is the choice people make that they want to read such dirty/uncivilized stuff thats is why they come to read blogs.

    99% of the people dont blog to improve their writing skills or to become a journalist. They just write it voice their opinion. And that is the true opinion. What supreme court is doing can only gag the people from saying it too openly, but it wont change the opinion of the people. People will still think about BD what they thought, or even worse now. So instead of gagging the public or if i rightly put it, harass the individuals with lack of financial and political power, try to think about what they are saying and if its the truth

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  2. @furobiker

    No law in the country gags an opinion. Laws are meant to regulate only the choice of words and the constitutionality of the opinion. Why do you think they imposed a gag order on Raj Thackeray few days back? Are you saying RT is free to hurl all possible abuses on non maratha via his blog? You think Muthalik should be allowed to say whatever he wants to say if he was a blogger? You will allow someone to attack religious minority or women via blogs?

    Who is saying opinions are to be regulated?

    Just no crime can be committed on Blogs. How difficult is it to understand.

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  3. I agree that no one should be allowed to get away with Libel/slander etc on blogs – there are laws against it in real life and it should apply to the internet too.

    However, the pressing question remains: who defines what is appropriate or not ? If I feel being labeled an ‘elite’ is a slander against me, should I sue and go to court ? If someone feels free hugs are against their ‘culture’, goes to court and sues and even gets a sympathetic judge to agree, is it then necessarily right ?

    Slippery slopes…..

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  4. I feel as long as a blog post is not abusive and hurtful one can go ahead and express his/ her opinion. What surprised me is the recent incidents; FIR against Renuka Chowdhary for saying that there is talibanisation happening. I mean she was not abusive, but was merely expressing her opinion after the Mangalore incident. Similary what this 19th year old had written about Shiv Sena that they are diving the country on the basis of religion is also not abusive but his own opinion and I am sure a lot of us would agree that such organisations/ forums which propogate hate should be discouraged hence I was really surprised at the SC judgment. Though its going to be a welcome change as people will write more responsibly now but holding every other perosn for having an opinion no matter right or wrong is not right. I hope people at the decision making level understand that.

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  5. @BongoPondit

    Answer to the pressing question: Law of the land decides. Look up the Indian Penal Code, is calling someone elite defamatory? If yes, Sue me, hang me. If not live with it.

    Whether free hugs are against our culture or not – also to be decided by Court. But if you don’t trust the Court and you live in this constant paranoia that some Judge would be crazy enough to declare that free hugs are against our culture then no one can help you. Really come out of this fear.

    And what is the point you are making? Since it is hard to decide what is acceptable and what is not Bloggers should be allowed to write whatever they want to. So if RT, Muthalik, Modi take up blogging there should be no regulation of their content? No matter how extremist they sound?

    Is that what all of you are suggesting? If I am wrong give me the right view if you have one.

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  6. @snigdha,

    did you see what was in that orkut community? I didn’t see, not sure which URL to follow. Anyway, did you notice that the question infront of the Supreme Court was not whether what was there in the Orkut community was right or wrong, the question was whether this guy can be prosecuted or not or is he allowed to not even face the Maharashtra Court.

    If bloggers start expecting that they have some kind of legal immunity, that they are not even required to face the court, then I don’t know where are we going

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  7. Since I am not a lawyer, perhaps you can point to someplace where I can get a list of libelous, slanderous, and defamatory words. Till then I hold on the view that randomly calling people elite causes mental harm to the person.

    constant paranoia that some Judge would be crazy enough to declare that free hugs are against our culture then no one can help you.

    Actually I don’t have a paranoia. I am just wondering if you would be so agreeable to a SC ruling if this was the case.

    RT, Muthalik, Modi take up blogging there should be no regulation of their content?

    Not unless they directly call for physical harm. They can abuse as much as they like – if you do not like it, do not read it. Develop a thick skin.

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  8. The SC has good intentions but cannot measure mainstream media and bloggers by the same yardstick. Bloggers do not have the same reach as mainstream media or public figures do: bloggers are about opinion and their opinion carries little credibility because it is being made by an ordinary citizen and not an authorized expert or commentator. There is a difference which is why the court must be more tolerant towards the internet social networking websites and the alternate media.

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  9. Below is the general law on defamation. SC must have gone in details how the man who complained was defamed personally and whether he had locus standi to file defamation suit. As I understand that saying all sivashainik/or Shivasena party is thief will not amount to Defamation.

    Of Course, we are not so conversant with the facts but I think SC ‘casually’ dismissed this boy’s petition. There should be some exceptionally/extraordinarily grave situation to start a proceedings, N existence of which I really doubt. More than Freedom aspect, it is a harassment to boy.

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    The complainant therefore is a “person aggrieved” within the meaning of Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and there is consequently no defect in cognizance. In support of the respective contentions on the first point as referred to above, various authorities have been cited and a reference has also been made to several reported decisions. in halsbury’s Laws of England (3rd Edn.: Edited by Viscount Simonds) Vol. 24, page 5, paragraph 6, It has been observed under the heading “Group Defamation” that “A class of persons cannot be defamed as a class, nor can an individual be defamed by general reference to the class to which he belongs”. A similar view was taken by Gatley in “Libel and Slander” (4th Edn.) at page 115 wherein there is a discussion relating to the “defamation of a class” and it has been stated that “where the words complained of reflect on a body or class of persons generally, such as lawyers, clergymen, publicans or the like, no particular member of the body or class can maintain an action”. The observations of Mr. Justice Willes in the case of Eastwood v. Holmes, (1858) 1 F & F 347 at p. 349 have been approved of and a reference was further made to the case of O. Brien v. Eason reported in (1913) 47 Ir LT wherein Lord Justice Holmes and Lord Justice Cherry observed that the dictum of Willes J. In the case of (1858) I F & F 347 “was sound law and strictly applicable”. A reference in this connection may also be made to Odgers “on Libel and Slander” (6th Edn.) at page 123 wherein it has been stated that “The defamatory words must refer to some ascertained or ascertainable person, and that person must be the plaintiff”. It was further observed at page 124 that “so if the words reflect impartially on either A or B, or on someone of a certain member of class, and there is nothing to show which one was meant, no one can sue.” It would therefore appear that there is an imprimature of authorities on the point that there will be no action of libel, if the body defamed is indeterminate, unless and untill an individual is referred to. As to the case law on the point, I will refer in the first instance to the case of Kunpffer v. London Express Newspaper, Ltd., (1944) AC p. 116 wherein Lord Porter observed at pp. 123 and 124 that “this case raises once again the question which is commonly expressed in the form; ‘can an individual sue in respect of words which are defamatory of a body or class of persons generally?” The answer as a rule must be ‘No,’ but the inquiry is really a wider one and is overned by no rule of thumb. The true question always is; “was the individual, ‘or were the individuals, bringing the action personally pointed’ to by the words complained of ?”. The next case on the point is the case of Braddock v. Bevins (1948) 1 K. B. 580 wherein the Master of the Rolls, Lord Greene delivering the judgment of the court, observed at page 588 that “No one of these is named in the alleged libels and before any one of them can succeed he must show that the alleged libels were or one of them was published of himself. In establishing this there are two stages. First, he must satisfy the judge as a matter of law that the words are capable of referring to himself as a particular identifiable individual ……… and secondly, if he succeeds in this he must satisfy the jury that the words do so refer to himself”. It was further observed at page 599 that “the words appear to us to be a mere generalisation and on applying the principles laid down by the House of Lords in 1944 AC 116 the appeal of these three appellants fails”. I may refer in this context to the Nil Darpan case tried by the Supreme Court of Calcutta, cited in Mayne’s Criminal Law of India wherein the words impugned as stated are “I present the indigo planters’ mirrors to the indigo planters’ hands”. Chief Justice Sir Barnes Peacock observed thereupon that “this certainly appears to me to represent to the indigo planters that if they look into this paper they would see a true representation each of himself”. Mr. Justice B. B. Ghose in his dissentient judgment in the case of Pratap Chandra Guha Roy v. King-Emperor. referred to the same and observed at page 1127 that “the true rule appears to be that if a person complains that he has been defamed as a member of a class he must satisfy the court that the imputation is against him personally and he is the person aimed at, before he can maintain a prosecution for defamation”.

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  10. Quick question,

    Who is responsible for defamatory comments on the blog ? Blog owner or the visitor who comments ?

    Will the Supreme Court accept IP address of the visitor who left the comment and spare the blog owner ? [Note IPs can be manipulated, etc no traces can be left or left from a cyber cafe] So in that case Blog Owner to face the court ?

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  11. I agree with Bongopondit that the shivsainiks or the muthaliks of the country can start a blog and write all they want. people will read and accept or criticize and reject and that is all perfectly fine. There is a lot of difference between the shivsainiks and muthaliks burning public property, disrupting lives and beating up the people for values they perceive as culture and writing about it with as much malice. The latter gives people the option to accept or reject while the other doesn’t. We should not confuse about rejecting people with rejecting ideas or opinions.

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  12. Well… to some extent I do agree with your viewpoint. Lately, I have read some really horrible stuff online.

    However, bringing Internet inside legal system’s perimeter (and I mean any legal system, not just ours) is kinda troubling. It sets a precedence of a wrong kind … today may be you are not allowed to cuss online … tomorrow may bring even bigger barriers. As long as law is sane and relevant, I’m all for it … else just like human beings, laws can be wrong too.

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  13. I agree with Sandil and Snigdha here. Even though this is in a sense welcome, this can be misused too.

    As Sandil said, bloggers are not experts and as Snigdha said, how do we define what the perimeter of responsibility is?

    We always have the choice to read or not to read anytime.

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  14. Free speech comes with a social responsiblity.. i get it.. understand it.. and adhere to it. But does that mean , speaking my mind MAY hurt someone’s sentiments & I MAY BE penalisd.. will only hold me back.

    Plus, I also agree, one is responsible for one’s own words & action ( real and virtual world) . ppl who comment.. how is am i ( blogger) responsible for that.. it is here the judgement hits an off-cord.

    .. I dont have any legal expertise.. this is just another blogger in the bloggoshpere.

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  15. hi,

    What you say i will not debate right away, but madam how do you voice something you know for sure , but can prove. I would really like the SC to come out on this. In our country a lot of people with power both political / legal / money make gross misuse of power . Now that is the root cause of problems inIndia. Abuse of Power. Age old problems – bonded labour to male chauvenism – the roots are in misuse of power.

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  16. Great, a tv channel can start a program by airing a disclaimer that all views expressed herewith are the views of the individuals and not the views of the producer and the host.

    But a blog cannot?

    WOW!!!!!

    Thank You very much the Supreme Court of India

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  17. I am reminded of a scene from the movie – Khuda ke liye – the protoganist is arrested on charges for being a party to the 911 attacks – the proof – his univ application form says he loves flying kites and creating model aeroplanes.

    While this legislation may control abusive and mud-slinging blogs, but it also gives the law-makers the power to misinterpret what we freely express and use it against us. If I write against violence in media, can a channel sue me for negative publicity against an entire group? The point is who exercises control on the misinterpretation and misuse of the law? Who protects the rights of the bloggers?

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  18. I started blogging as this gave me a space to write whatever I feel like writing. Now if every time before I write I start thinking its legal implications I think I will probabaly have to give up blogging.

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  19. The SC has no business interfering in personal blogs and personal freedoms….

    I agree that the blog does not have the reach of the mainstream media and also it is not shoved down your throat ..
    You go to the blog to read it ..
    No one drags you there …

    You don’t like it .. don’t read it ..

    And regarding the Shiv Sena, they do go ballistic
    whenever they wish to and the Law only drags it feet unwillingly at best at reigning them in …

    Has Bal thackeray or Raj Thackeray even spent
    a 24 hour time in prison??

    This decision is Orwellian in its implications …
    Just makes me think … The Bible is right in its revelations about a One world order where none may do, say, trade or do anything unless they first pay obeisance to the laws of Anti-Christ

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