Video Report: Chaining the modem, gagging the router

21 Dec,2011

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

The second annual symposium on ‘Media and New Technology – New Technologies, New Challenges: Indian Media Issues in Global Perspective’ hosted by Star India in New Delhi, on December 19th and 20th, set the ground for exploring international and comparative perspectives on the current media regulation debate and the role of information in the society in the times to come.

 

The symposium, an initiative of Oxford University’s Programme in Comparative Media Law & Policy (PCMLP), in cooperation with its academic partners – the National Law University-Delhi, the National University of Juridical Sciences-Kolkata, and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, brought together the diverse views of academics, bureaucrats, policymakers, industry leaders, civil society and legal experts to discuss such issues as law and responsibilities of self-regulation of media entities, regulation of the Internet, and emerging technologies in the context of freedom of information, privacy, and freedom of expression.

 

Setting the tone of the two-day seminar, in his opening address, Uday Kumar Varma, Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting announced the government’s roadmap both for digitization and content regulation.

 

Some of the other key speakers who addressed the participants at this symposium included Mark Stephens, Former Legal Advisor for Wikileaks; Osama Abu-Dehays, Head of Legal Affairs, Al Jazeera; Arvind Rajagopal, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, NYU; Blair Levin, Communications & Society Fellow, Aspen Institute; Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor at The Hindu; Siddharth Narrain, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore; Manoj Mitta, Senior Editor at The Times of India; Sevanti Ninan, Founder of TheHoot.com; and Monroe Price, Director, Center for Global Communication Studies, University of Pennsylvania.

 

From trends in media regulation over the past year to the changing role of regulators, to the number of new challenges posed by evolving technology to media companies and the lawyers who represent them, a flurry of viewpoints were exchanged in the extensive debates.

 

Deepak Jacob, EVP & General Counsel – Legal & Regulatory Affairs, Star India said, “I think this debate keeps the entire discussion and controversy around media regulation, it keeps it on the boil. You get different viewpoints, you get the contra viewpoint, you get the ‘for regulation’ viewpoint. So I think it’s healthy to keep this debate alive.”

 

Panelists from different disciplines added to the flavour and scope of discussions. Nicole Stremlau, Coordinator, Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, University of Oxford said, “We tried to bring together the different research streams that are active here in India. So we brought together academics from universities, researchers from think tanks, as well as others working in the industry. So we very much tried to have a discussion across disciplines and across institutions. On the one hand, we had anthropologists, sociologists talking about the vast changes in the media policy and media regulation in India and on the other hand we also had a legal stream. So we had emerging lawyers discussing some of the pressing legal issues here and how they do research on these issues.”

 

Is self-regulation possible?

Following the recent controversy on content regulation sparked by Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, interesting points on self-regulation of the media came up during the course of discussions. While Blair Levin, Communications & Society Fellow, Aspen Institute thought that it’s important to look at the particular issue to determine whether there is a need for the govt to step in or whether the industry can regulate itself, Deepak Jacob, EVP & General Counsel – Legal & Regulatory Affairs, Star India felt that the implementation of the self-regulatory mechanism is the biggest challenge. He said, “That’s always going to be a challenge, to educate, to make people aware of how self-regulation is the best way forward. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge because people really intuitively don’t believe in self-regulation. They always believe that the govt has a huge role to play and should be censoring content.” Deepak Jacob also added that people are reading too much into Kapil Sibal’s move.

 

[youtube width=”400″ height=”200″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOJ_EOHawOI[/youtube]

Deepak Jacob of Star India on challenges of self-regulation

 

‘Informal censorship is happening’

Another interesting point was made by Chinmayi Arun, Assistant Professor, National University of Jurisdical Sciences, Kolkata who feels that there is state-driven censorship taking place at an informal level. She said, “When we discuss censorship or interception of data, basically govt influence of information online, we tend to think of it in formal terms, that has the government officially asked for a certain amount of information, has the government officially asked certain sites to block a certain kind of information. But there’s actually a vast amount of blocking and interception that may possibly be done through informal mechanisms. And I think that perhaps this is one of those informal mechanisms surfacing.”

 

[youtube width=”400″ height=”200″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmNH3tZgPJc[/youtube]

Prof Chinmayi Arun on state-driven censorship

 

Speed, affordability… and freedom?

Talking of broadband access and the debate around filtering content, Blair Levin, Communications & Society Fellow, Aspen Institute agreed that the issue does get trickier with the nature of broadband but particularly in India, he said, “The debate is in a very early stage, in part because there is so little broadband, and in part frankly because the wireless technology, that’s going to be the necessary tool to bring broadband to most people in India, really is very early on in the game. It is only now that we have the kind of technology that can deliver real broadband speeds over wireless platforms. And really only now that the costs of the devices have come down to a level where a number of people can afford them.”

 

Citing his personal experience with working on the National Broadband Plan in the US, Mr Levin stated that the situation and the challenges in India are very different from that in the US. He said, “In India, the great challenge is how do you get, first the underlying infrastructure in a number of places. Though I would say that infrastructure ought to be much more wireless than wired but then there is really the challenge of how do you make sure it’s a productive infrastructure? It’s a similar challenge in the US but the details are quite different.”

 

[youtube width=”400″ height=”200″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdQDkQQaU2E[/youtube]

The debate on whether the govt can filter or block content in both broadcast and broadband mediums, Mr Levin feels, will continue, as it has for the past so many decades, but he hopes that “the government here, as well as elsewhere, can get the balance right”.

 

Dr Blair Levin on the debate in India on filtering content

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