Jaldi 5 with Sachin Kalbag: Upholding civil liberties…

21 Nov,2012

The arrest and eventual release of a young lady living in Palghar in suburban Mumbai thanks to a Facebook post as also her friend who ‘liked’ it sent shockwaves across India’s urban set who happily post their comments on social networks and microblogs. Leading English daily Mid-Day has announced a People’s Freedom Charter in defending the citizen’s right to free speech. MxMIndia interviewed Mid-Day executive editor Sachin Kalbag and asked him on what the paper hopes to achieve with the Charter.

 

01. How do propose to ensure your Charter reaches its logical conclusion… as in ensure that students are not found to be on the wrong side of the law for exercising their rights, as stated by you?

There will be no “conclusion” to this process. This is the first step in a long journey to defend freedom of speech. MiD DAY will, stridently and on a sustained basis, defend the freedom of speech of India’s citizens. It will mean that we give stories pertaining to this issue wide play. Of course, due to constraints of space in the print medium, we cannot be talking only of freedom of speech-related stories, or even all stories pertaining to the topic. But yes, it will be a large focus area.

 

2. One of the biggest problems is the interpretation of how any speech or action will affect law and order and the social fabric. Don’t you think that what’s needed is public opinion against age-old laws and getting them changed eventually through the Executive or the Judiciary?

In a true democracy, freedom of speech must be absolute. It is something we do not have right now because Article 19(2) of the Constitution puts “Reasonable Restrictions” on freedom of speech. Those restrictions are the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. If you read between the lines, practically anything can constitute as an offence (I calling someone ugly, or, for that matter, saying Sachin Tendulkar is an ordinary batsman). This is where the arbitrariness of “reasonable restrictions” needs to be highlighted. Another example of arbitrary interpretation and application of law is Section 66(A) of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008. Once again, anything can constitute as “offensive” and I could lodge a complaint with the police against you because I found your email or your Facebook post offensive. This is what we need to be guarding against. As right-minded citizens, we must oppose this arbitrariness. We should stand up against laws that can be used to settle scores or wrongfully applied.

 

Through our Freedom Charter, we want to build public opinion in this regard. Ultimately, it is Parliament (the lawmaking body) which will have to debate and pass laws that do leave nothing to arbitrary interpretation. It is a tough challenge, but someone needs to be a catalyst.

 

03. It’s been seen that not just the government, but also otherwise well-meaning, educated and well-read individuals do not take very kindly to criticism, especially when it’s on social media (and Twitter)?

Not taking kindly to criticism is a universal trait. Who wakes up in the morning and says, “Come on, world, criticize me.”? The point is not about criticism, but my freedom as a citizen to speak my mind without any fear. If the person on the receiving side feels that the critic has no basis for what he or she said, the “affected party” can sue the critic for defamation so that the critic can prove whether his allegations are accurate or not. There are these laws that give the affected party a platform for redressal. But we cannot sit on a high horse and say, “No one can criticize me,” or “No one will oppose me because I am the government and I know what is best for the country.”

 

04. Your report mentions that the Charter will be the guiding principle in your paper’s reportage. Could you give an example of how this will happen?

We will ensure in reportage that civil liberties are upheld at all costs. You will see this in all our stories.

 

05. This also means that in case of a situation where you or your paper are subjected to criticism, you’ll take it in the right spirit?

Of course, we will take in the right spirit. We are an irreverent, anti-establishment, ideologically neutral newspaper. No matter what we do, our stories offend someone or the other. We believe that as a responsible newspaper, we will investigate our stories thoroughly, and that we will not carry stories without proper documentation to prove we are right. If in that process someone is offended, so be it. We are ready to defend our stand. And if we are wrong, we shall apologize and take steps to ensure that we do not repeat our mistakes. But at no point in time shall we say that, “We will not carry the story because it will offend someone.”

 

Interviewed by Ananya Saha

 

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