Web censorship and freedom of speech
Under the cloak of protecting the majority
or the minority and to stop cyber crimes, many South Asian governments
have enacted numerous laws that undermine people’s internet freedom and
India, being the largest democracy of the
world took a giant leap back when it demanded 20 major Internet
companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter present plans to
filter “anti-religious” or “anti-social” material from the content
available to Indian citizens.
In April 2011 the Indian government
quietly issued amendments to the IT rules restricting web content that
is designated as “disparaging,” “harassing,” “blasphemous” or “hateful.”
Indian netizens campaigned against it online and even engaged in a
hunger strike in May 2012 to support an annulment motion against the new
IT Rules-2011 in the Indian Rajya Sabha.
Not only the government, but the Indian
entertainment Industry was also after social media as they demanded the
courts to ban Torrents and Vimeo on copyright issues.
In August, the Indian government cracked
down on various social media sites, banning some Facebook pages and
Twitter handles, citing that they fueled the communal attacks on people
from the North East.
In May, Twitter users in Pakistan suffered
a total blanket censorship across all ISPs in the country, on order of
the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority which was attempting to black
out ‘blasphemous' content.
Pakistan and Bangladesh banned YouTube in
September after strong reactions against the hosting of controversial
film Innocence of The Muslims. YouTube is still totally blocked in both
the countries and India blocked only the video inside the country.
In an exemplary effort some Pakistani
activists and bloggers reacted promptly to stop the Great Firewall, the
proposed national “URL filtering and blocking system”. The $10 million
system was required to enable the Pakistani government to ”handle a
block list of up to 50 million URLs”.
In August, the Pakistani government
suspended mobile services in major cities on Eid to prevent terrorist
attacks. This soon became a trend and since then mobile networks have
been completely shut down a number of times in different parts of
Pakistan evoking much criticism.
In Bangladesh a proposed online news
policy was criticized heavily in social media which prompted the
government to shelve it. In March, a Bangladesh court ordered concerned
authorities to shut down five Facebook pages and a website for blasphemy
against the Prophet Mohammed, the Koran and other religious subjects.
In Sri Lanka, a new government regulation
which applies steep fees for online ‘news' website has generated much
debate. Some are worried the broad implications of the law could extend
to personal blogs, and may even prompt bloggers to resort to
self-censorship, out of fear.
Prosecution for using Social Media
In Bangladesh the High Court sentenced a
university teacher to a 6-month jail term after he failed to appear in
court to face trial regarding his Facebook status update.
In India, a professor was arrested for
forwarding a “defamatory” cartoon against the West Bengal Chief Minister
Mamata Banerjee. Police also detained a 21-year-old woman after she
posted a Facebook a status update protesting the total shutdown of
Mumbai city following the death of the founder of the Shiv Shena party.
Her friend, who ‘liked’ the update was also arrested. Both were later
released on bail.
The Sri Lankan authorities raided offices
of two news websites on allegation of criminal defamation and arrested
nine journalists. In another incident the defense secretary threatened
an editor of a local newspaper during an interview.
Role of MSM
Instead of helping an Indian girl being
assaulted by 20 men outside a pub in Guwahati, the cameraman from a
local Television channel shot a 30-minute video of the incident. The
video had gone viral, with many raising media ethics questions and
wondering whether India is becoming a nation of bystanders.
Earlier this month in Bangladesh the news
that captured the nation's imagination and made the headlines across all
the major newspapers, magazines and TV channels was the brutal murder of
24 year-old Biswajit Das, under full view of the public and media.
In March, certain areas of Kolkata in West
Bengal, India, were brought to a grinding halt by protesters opposing a
certain tweet, allegedly posted by an Indian model, which was in turn
published in a leading English daily.
Pakistan's fiery broadcast media was at
the center of several social media campaigns this year. Pakistani talk
show host Maya Khan, became the focus of many, after she aired an
episode of moral policing on dating couples in her morning show. A
successful social media campaign got her TV show scrapped from the
networks. But she was later hired by another network where she invited a
religious scholar to convert a young Hindu boy to Islam live on her
show. But some say the conversion was forced. A leaked video showing
popular anchorpersons Mehar Bokhari and Mubashar Lucman involved in a
set-up interview also sent shock waves across the media industry and the
Nepali netizens were irked by a remark by
a moderator of an Indian TV channel that “Nepal is a Territory of
India.” They vented their reactions on different social networking
Exemplary use of Social Media
In Bangladesh discrimination and
oppression against the 45 indigenous tribes (adibashis) are not new.
Some of the indigenous netizens are resorting to blogs, Facebook and
other social media platforms to voice their concerns.
To facilitate the transit of overloaded
Indian cargo trucks through Bangladesh, a long diversion route had been
built through the Titas river and its tributaries obstructing its flow
in many parts. The fact was first divulged in a TV report. Investigative
bloggers went to the scene and published the story with pictures which
later prompted the authorities to remove the road.
Reconciliation is a much discussed
buzzword across Sri Lanka. While there has been much talk about how to
do it, a group called Sri Lanka Unites is actually promoting
reconciliation and hope to young people by visiting schools and building
a network of over 4500 student leaders from every district and community
in Sri Lanka. They are also using social media extensively to maintain
and promote the network.
In India, discrimination
against Dalits still exist in many rural areas and in the private
sphere. Dalit Camera, a YouTube Channel vows to highlight the plights of
[Author is the Regional
Editor of 'Global Voices',
an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen
media from around the world.]