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LinkAsia | Sep 20
Reactions across India to the death sentences handed down on the four men convicted of a brutal rape and murder in New Delhi have been overwhelming...
Now let's turn to India, where the battle between government censorship and social media is also heating up. Abishek Singhvi, a senior leader in Congress, is resigning as his party's spokesperson after a controversial video began circulating on social media sites. The video allegedly shows him offering a judgeship to a female lawyer and having sex with her. Singhvi tried to keep the video out of public view by preventing traditional media outlets from airing it, but his efforts were frustrated when it went viral on social media. Here's a report from our contributor in New Delhi, Ajoy Bose.
Singhvi thought he had it all sewn up when he pulled strings to get a late night injunction to stop publication or telecast of a clip that purportedly showed him in a compromising position in his court chambers. With him was a woman lawyer aspiring to become a Delhi High Court judge. The mainstream media respected the gag order, but the new media, defying conventional controls and censorship, did not. The clip went viral on the net and a few days later, Singhvi was toast. Despite protestations of innocence and accusations of doctored video, he was forced to quit both his parliamentary and party posts. There is little doubt that the very nature of the internet resists control. The Singhvi episode underlines the futility of trying to muzzle the social media. The clip was first uploaded on YouTube, which pulled it off within 20 minutes, because it violated the platform's rules on nudity and sexual content. But soon, Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media sites and blogs were buzzing with links to the video. The sex CD scandal has raised concerns about both the right to privacy and regulation of the internet. Some feel that the social media is [doing] a great job at a time when mainstream media in India is seen to have sold out to the establishment. Even lawyers specializing in privacy cases were ambivalent.
One lawyer said India has the technology to block YouTube and block Twitter, but it shouldn't be used:
"Not unless we wish to stop being a democracy and emulate Iran and China."
Interestingly, the government does not seem too keen to intervene. Controversial telecom minister Kapil Sibal is keeping a low profile, having burnt his fingers some months ago when he tried to browbeat service providers into accepting some form of self-censorship. He told reporters that "putting curbs on the media is a serious issue." And that "we should have a consensus before we move forward." When officials like Kapil Sibal sound so meek, it's obvious the social media genie is out of the bottle and running wild. And politicians will have to just live with it. For LinkAsia this is Ajoy Bose in New Delhi.
According to Indian law, distributing obscene material electronically could get you up to five years in jail, but there's a loophole. It's only illegal if you upload or embed the material. If you're just forwarding a text link to the material, that's considered legal.