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Is fake news an opportunity for Smriti Irani ?

Santosh Nair

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An order was issued on Monday (02/04/18) night which said that a journalist’s accreditation would be suspended once a complaint of fake news was registered against him/her which would be later determined by the Press Council of India (PCI) and News Broadcaster Association (NBA). If found that the news was indeed fake that he or she would lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently depending on the gravity of the news and thus be denied access to government institutions as well.

The I&B ministry’s decision for stringent punishment for spreading fake news was not taken kindly by the media. Journalist and the opposition parties took a serious note of the order issued by the I&B ministry and described the guidelines as an attack on the freedom of press.

While Mr Rajdeep Sardesai insinuated that the government was itself into the business of false propaganda spreading which can be also termed as fake news, Mr Ravish Kumar opined that the journalists were not taken into confidence before the circular was issued and that the attack will not stop.

In a joint statement the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Club of India expressed their ‘’deep concern”. They felt that despite ample scope for introspection and reform of journalistic practices a government fiat restraining the fourth pillar of their democratic rights is not a solution.

The Press Council of India in its press release on the above stated that although there is nothing wrong or obnoxious if the government intends to take remedial measures to check fake news, an independent statutory authority should be constituted to decide on the veracity/authenticity of the news. No prudent person should or can justify the dissemination of fake news.

The Editors Guild echoed a similar sentiment which said that it is more often than not that the government at the centre and the parties in power in the states are charged with propagating fake news themselves. By notifying that the I & B ministry will initiate such proceedings the government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would only open the doors for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organizations to fall in line.

The crack-down of fake news by the government around the world is underway. The governments in UK, France, Germany, Philippines, Malaysia are seeking ways and means to make a headway in resolving this issue. The fake news menace surfaces more towards election time and is at its bullying best at such times. The administration has their own agenda to protect and the onus would be to safeguard allegations that harm their interest. Fake news is a Trojan Horse that is deceptive and could mislead readers of its true intent.

With the potential ability to imprison, bankrupt or put journalist out of business for publishing poorly defined misinformation, there is enormous scope for abuse, of which the worst-case scenario would be outright government censorship impinging on human rights and make people’s lives worse.

Yet even without outright control of stories, there is also the risk of the chilling effect, where the press self-censorship to comply with the rules means that legitimate stories in public interest are left unpublished for the fear of potential consequences.

As Yin Yin Lu, a researcher at the Oxford internet institute describes “not reporting something is as dangerous as reporting something false”. She further says that this kind of legislation would restrain journalist from publishing the truth. Lu believes that the best choice is allowing normal people to deal with fake news themselves rather than letting the government take care of it for them.

The top-down approach disempowers users and empowers the high and mighty. The solution needs to be bottom up which is tied to the design of the social media platforms where a majority of the news today is consumed. It should be the responsibility of the platforms to implement a design solution that would indicate visually the quality of the news sources that were shared. This will allow the users themselves to determine whether-or-not they are trustworthy.

In the Indian context, all curbs on the freedom of expression is most uncalled for.

India being one of the world’s largest democracies needs to exercise considerable restraint when it comes to encroaching on fundamental rights viz the freedom of speech and expression!!

In India, fake news is shaped and modelled to meet the political interest of various political outfits. The news makes an impact not only on the public at large but also finds inroads into the history books of schools. The Trojan horse manifests itself in its most malicious form in the mindsets of several hundreds of readers and holds sway to incline/convert opinions.

Revered leaders of the past are portrayed in a poor light!! Pandit Nehru as a womanizer and Mahatma Gandhi a sexual pervert!! History books are distorted while its custodians change hands!! Political vendetta has taken an ugly form and will decay further in due course!!

Indians excel both in dispensing and receiving fictitious news as long as the same is aligned with their thought process. The inference is fore destined and hence news gains acceptance only if it meets the criteria.

News needs to be considered as a separate entity and opinions are to be derived from them. News in India undergoes various interpretations and is construed to suit different ideologies. When Modi did a U-turn immediately on sensing the undercurrents, it was reported that he was not informed of the I & B ministry’s notification.

However, it hardly calls for great manipulative skills to discover the truth behind the con game!!

Disclaimer:

Santosh Nair is a columnist writing for HW News Network.  The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

 

 

Karan Thapar

Rafale Deal: Transparent or murky???

Karan Thapar

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Rafale

Depending on who you talk to the Rafale deal is either mired in scandal and controversy or it’s the very epitome of squeaky-clean transparency. It’s hard to imagine two positions further apart. Which is why it may be a good idea to sit back and take a careful look at all that we’ve been told and then ask what it adds up to.

Let me focus on three concerns. First, the decision to reduce the number of planes from 126 to 36. Did this happen in disregard of the Air Force’s requirements? If the government has now issued another tender for over 100 planes how is the reduction justified?

On 1st September former Air Force Chief Krishnaswamy wrote that in 2014 the Air Force made a request for an urgent purchase of 2 squadrons i.e. 36. The present Air Force Chief, B. S. Dhanoa, has defended this “emergency procurement” claiming there have been several instances of similar procurements in the past. In such circumstances, he adds, 2 squadrons is the ideal quantity. But the rest of the Air Force’s requirement is still uncatered for and who knows how long that will continue?

The second issue is the price. In November 2016, the government told Parliament that each Rafale would cost 670 crore. A year later both Dassault and Reliance Defence claimed the price would be 1,660 crore. The latter figure has led many to claim the planes are considerably more expensive than the ones Congress was negotiating.

Arun Jaitley, however, insists the cost negotiated by the UPA included room for price escalation and currency fluctuation and, therefore, today the cost per plane would be 9% greater than what the NDA has negotiated in terms of the simple plane and 20% greater in terms of the weaponized plane. The Air Force’s Deputy Chief, R. Nambiar, has gone a step further. He says the present Rafale deal is 40% cheaper than the earlier one.

In this connection, it’s interesting to note a change in the present government’s position. Initially, it claimed the higher price per plane was because of India-specific add-ons. When Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha revealed the 2015 agreement specified the NDA was buying planes with the same configuration as the UPA’s the government became silent on this subject.

The third issue is the decision to award the 30,000 crore offsets to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence. Critics point out that this company has no experience of manufacturing aircraft whilst it carries a heavy burden of debt. To them, this smacks of crony capitalism.

In his defence, the CEO of Reliance has said Dassault has a right to give the offsets to any Indian partner it chooses, a point corroborated by the Defence Minister in recent interviews. Secondly, no component of the 36 planes will be made in India. Thirdly, it’s no secret Dassault and HAL could not reach an agreement over the 126 aircraft deal. So it’s not surprising the former would choose a different partner this time round.

These explanations would be convincing but for the fact the CEO of Dassault, Eric Trappier, has said the joint venture with Reliance will manufacture components for his Rafale planes. The only question is whether they will be for the planes bought by India or manufactured for other countries.

So, now, what does all of this add upto? To my mind, the outcome is not just uncertainty but confusion. There is no doubt serious questions have been raised but, equally, we don’t have clear answers. Unless you take sides, you probably don’t know what to think.

Finally, when Shourie and Sinha call the new Rafale deal “a major scandal … by far larger than the ones that the country has had to contend with in the past”, it’s worth bearing in mind that so far there’s no money trail nor a discernable smoking gun. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t disturbing questions and a strange resistance by the government to reveal the price, which only adds suspicion to concern. The claim that a secrecy clause won’t permit the latter is a telling example of the ham-handedness with which this issue has been handled. The government seems to be making matters worse for itself.

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Santosh Nair

One more step to a tolerant society: India rejects Section 377

Santosh Nair

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Section 377

A landmark judgement that celebrated the constitutional morality holding it taller and more sovereign than the majoritarian preference, found expression in the corridors of the judiciary!!

Modelled on the Buggery Act of 1533 and adopted as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, this law was introduced in 1861 during the British colonial rule. The intent was to chastise/criminalize sexual activities that violated the order of nature.

The apex court struck down the tyranny of Section 377 as irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary while making it clear that it would still apply to “unnatural” sexual acts such as “bestiality”. Justice Indu Malhotra felt that we owe an apology to the LGBT community for their untold sufferings and suppression of legitimate freedom guaranteed by the constitution.

We join the group of 30 odd nation that has decriminalized gay sex and has even further recognized same-sex marriage as well.

Gays / Lesbians can never be considered a sexual disorder, it is a matter of preference / orientation. They find love only in the presence of their partners as much as we find in our soul mate!! The community suffers a deep sense of anguish and a feeling of extensive loss when their preferences are not met. Social ostracization adds up to their angst that leads to suicides!!

Our constitution is extremely transformative and reparative, we need the right leadership for the metamorphosis. The laws need to be acceptable even to a miniscule minority without it infringing into their fundamental rights.

A further upsurge would be acceptance of gay marriages and court sanction for the adoption of children. To be fair to the LGBT we need to hasten this as well.

In a nation where even an inter-caste or inter-religion marriage is considered taboo, where the nod of the elders is considered paramount, where terms like love jihad are in vogue, where the moral police dictate social conduct, marriage between the same sex will tend to have an aversion of a very high order!!

When vote banks tend to prevail in the country the ideology gets considerably diluted. The judicial system is under extreme duress and could succumb to intense pressure. Religious and cultural beliefs take precedence over logic, reason and rational behaviour.

It is time for the constitutional morality to ride over majoritarian morality!!

 

 

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Rahul Kapoor

Section 377 Decriminalized: The road ahead for LGBTQ community

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Section 377

The Supreme Court in a judgment which will be remembered for ages ruled to decriminalize the draconian and outdated Section 377 of the Indian Penal code paving way for consenting adults to engage in consensual sex without the fear of being thrown into the Jail and facing punishment for their sexual orientation and more precisely for being what they really are. The encouraging part was the unanimous nature of this decision in which the five-judge bench constituting Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices Indu Malhotra, DY Chandrachud, Rohinton F Nariman, and AM Khanwilkar were in favour of the decriminalization and while pronouncing the judgment did not shy away from sharing the rationale behind their ruling.

The Chief Justice Dipak Misra pointed out that, “Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual. Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality.” A statement embedded in the understanding of the regressive social morality of our country which has systematically oppressed different sections of the society in the name of religion, caste, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. This is the same social morality which did not allow the decriminalization of this draconian law even after its implementing father Britain had decriminalized it way back in parts 1828 and completely in 1967 in their own country.

However, we ourselves chose to carry the burden of this social morality and impose it on the fundamental rights of our own people for years and years. Let us not forget, that even the High Court and Supreme Court took nine long years between themselves to make this landmark judgment. It was not an easy decision for them too but a recent and slight progressive change in this social morality finally helped them to make constitutional morality victorious over social morality.

The way ahead for the LGBTQ community now lies in the rigidness of this social morality which has changed enough to stay silent on the top court’s judgment in public spheres in a possible fear of being booked for contempt of court if they speak but silently in their private spheres, the hatred is far from over, more so now when majoritarian views are systematically breaching and intruding the private spaces of the minority culture and their lifestyle. In fact, I am wholeheartedly waiting for the reaction of yoga guru Baba Ramdev on the judgment, not because he is an expert on the subject but because he has always been very vocal about Homosexuality, terming it as a disease and he, unfortunately, is also a huge ambassador of the collective social morality of our country. His silence would only signify that his kinds may have been defeated in the court but outside in the society where majoritarianism and mob mentality prevails, they will have the last laugh.

So, will gay couples and people from the LGBTQ community be accepted in the larger societal context and not seen as outcasts is a question which still looms large on the heads of LGBTQ people. A gay couple would know the problems they would face when they will go out to look for a rented accommodation, they know that even after the judgment they will either have to stay in the closet to avoid the hate they will be showered upon or be ready to deal with the multiple problems which will come their way after they reveal their sexual orientation.

This is perhaps why the bench said, “Decriminalization is but the first step; the Constitution envisages much more. LGBTs are victims of Victorian morality,” because deep down they are also aware that the landmark judgment is not but just the first step for securing the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people but it is surely not a safety net for them which will prevent them from being further victimized for being who they are. This is why the court categorically pointed out that Homosexuality is natural and not a disease and the government should spread awareness of the same and sensitize people on the rights of the LGBTQ community.

If LGBTQ people still face the same hatred and obstacles in living their lives in a dignified way and they approach the police for protection and safeguarding their rights, then will the police understand or will they lecture them on their morality? These are just some of the many questions that need to be answered and the answers may well lie in a policy document for the LGBTQ people which safeguards their interest and rights because the landmark judgment so far has only struck down their names from the category of criminals but has not provided them any protections from the real criminals spreading hate freely in the society who will time and again try to victimize LGBTQ people and make all attempts to snatch their existence from them. It is for these criminals that a strong law needs to be enacted.

The bench remarked that the, “History owes an apology to the LGBT community. They were made to live a life full of fear.” I sincerely hope that this fear is now evicted from the lives of LGBTQ people taking one step at a time. Therefore, the historic judgment and decriminalization of Section 377 is the beginning of the end of fear, oppression, marginalization and subjugation in the lives of LGBTQ people and concerted steps in all spheres starting from sensitizing the society and making it more inclusive to formulating safeguarding acts and polices for LGBTQ people will be the need of the hour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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