Social media hits back at Sibal

07 Dec,2011

By Ranjona Banerji

 

 The might of social media came straight down on Union minister Kapil Sibal on Tuesday after he tried to control, contain and coerce the internet into submission. Not only did the websites he spoke to refuse to screen content before it goes online, internet users also spewed venom at him. Those who tried to defend the minister’s position also felt the wrath of the people – former minister Shashi Tharoor and cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle for instance.

 

Sibal said that after “offensive” comments and pictures on the net were brought to his notice, he got in touch with some websites and asked them to screen such content before it goes online. He pointed out that the cultural sensitivities of India had to be protected.

 

Does the minister have a point? The problem for him though is that the internet is notoriously (and gloriously) indifferent to regulation. Its users guard their freedom very effectively and the effort to control them would be time-consuming, expensive and largely futile.

 

TV on Tuesday night was bristling with rage – though I should clarify that. Times Now and CNNIBN bristled, NDTV was bothered about surrogacy (more publicity for Aamir Khan) and after that, showed We The People Again.

 

For the first time since I have seen Suhel Seth on television (I confess here that he and I went to the same school for some years in Calcutta, at the same time), he did a commendable job yesterday. As Chandan Mitra was extolling the virtues of a tolerant India and the importance of freedom of speech, at the same time likening the Congress Party to the devil, Seth reminded Mitra that December 6 was the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which does not say much for Indian tolerance. He also asked Mitra to reveal what he felt about freedom of speech and expression in the context of MF Husain and the controversy over the late artist’s depiction of Hindu deities. Mitra promptly changed his tune and was not quite so much in favour of freedom of expression. This is fact brought him closer to the song which Sibal is singing? Goswami, to his credit, pointed out to Mitra that he had changed his position. Anyway, Seth and Mitra got into spat and that ended what anyone else had to say.

 

As a result, like all TV debates, there was more bombast that substance. It took today’s newspapers to tell us that the government is considering fines for offensive material and is formulating a code of conduct.

 

Twitter and Facebook however continued their anger into Wednesday. India was likened to China (which is infamously terrified of freedom), the Emergency was harked back to, Sibal was compared to a Taliban cleric and the defining word – used in defiance of course – for Sibal was “idiot”.

 

Not a nice day in the office for the minister!

 

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The amount of publicity given to Aamir Khan’s baby via IVF and surrogacy has raised this cynic’s suspicions. Is there some sort of a publicity campaign going on for IVF clinics? Having done a number of stories on the procedure in my youth, I am surprised to see that the downside of IVF – high cost and low success rate to name two – is hardly being discussed.

 

Surrogacy however has had some discussion on it.

 

**

 

V Gangadhar’s satirical piece on the edit page of The Hindustan Times is worth a read for a chuckle. He’s had a little gentle fun with the tributes to the late actor Dev Anand, which have been written by the unlikeliest of people.

 

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