Discerning Defamation- Stress on Speech

MP Tathagata Satpathy’s Speech Bill is the first social media bill

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Society

September 29, 2016

/ By / Kolkata

In a benchmark in the history of India’s legislative practice, MP Tathagata Satpathy has reportedly launched the most organised private member’s bill, the Speech Bill, garnering huge support from social media.

Archaic defamation law has ensured jail time for bloggers, cartoonists and the internet citizens in India

Archaic defamation law has ensured jail time for bloggers, cartoonists and other netizens of India

Inviting popular opinion from the digital citizens of the country, Civil and Criminal defamation laws are under scrutiny in India. The archaic nature of the colonial laws of Section 499 and 500 of the IPC presumably makes it convenient for it to be used as a remedy to a citizen’s requirement for the curbing of free speech in the country. The noted imbalance in the Freedom of Speech and the Right to Reputation has caused dire consequences for an increasing number of people in the country. Member of Parliament Tathagata Satpathy, notably popular with the youth of the nation for his fearless propositions at the Parliament, takes note of this crisis that has affected citizens across the country irrespective of whether they are politicians, celebrities, sportspersons or media house representatives.
The Right to Free Speech and the Right to Reputation cannot come at the cost of the other, supporters of the bill firmly assert.

Rolling Bill gathers moss

Chief of Staff from the office of Tathagata Satpathy has been maintaining transparency in the formulation of this Bill, a visibly unprecedented event in India’s legislative culture.
The increasing number of arrests under the Section 66A Information Technology Act for criticism towards the faces of Indian politics by teenagers, young adults, cartoonists, satirists, journalists or even politicians who counter a speech with a speech has raised questions. The Defamation law being both a civil and criminal law, has sparked keen support for the Speech Bill, so much so that organizations like Harper Collins India, OML Entertainment and 20 others have already pledged their support. It is for the first time that an official website has been launched in order to provide mileage to the formulation of a Bill before its passage in the Parliament.

Netizen Speaks

 

A cartoon that depicts the power dynamics in controlling the media

A cartoon depicting the power dynamics of controlling mass media

On asking Avishek De Biswas, a citizen of New Delhi and a supporter of the bill, about how this bill holds importance in his perspective, he said, “ Past experiences  show that an outdated defamation law of 1860 cannot seem to keep up with the growing trend of people using social media to speak up, be it in appreciation, passing information or  criticism, which has often resulted in false defamation cases, causing the speaker major harassment and abusing his/her right to speech through strenuous and fruitless court proceedings.  I believe that every individual whether in a public office or domain should be open to criticism as there are hundreds of perspectives with more than one possibility of conflict, which is regular and usual in any democracy. This bill aims to protect free ‘speech’ as a principle and ‘reputation’ as an exception. This will help  the system function with a strong sense of accountability to its people. Having said this, we need to humbly accept that laws are made by humans and are subject to loopholes which need to be corrected as and when recognised. Measures taken by the bill take extreme care to pinpoint existing loopholes and prevent further abuse of the law with its proposed reforms. As far as inclusion of the law is in question we have to wait for our lawmakers to consider the positive outcome and the magnanimity of this reform and pass it as a law. For long, powerful public figures have maintained to be beyond questioning and criticism of masses, charging brutally against dissent. I hope that this will stop and the common man will not dread bullying in practising his/her fundamental right to express. ”

The wholesome translation of the innovations of this Bill for the restoration of public faith in the judicial system remains to be observed. The urgency provided to the preservation of the freedom of speech in a dynamic socio-political climate in the country without compromising on the high-priority nature of the protection of an individual’s reputation, is commendable.

The attempt to activate the call for change in the complacency of India’s existing legal framework is unarguably a breath of relief for the citizens of the country.

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