On censorship, The Hindu plays a dubious game

Sandeep Balakrishna | Aug 28, 2012 

The Hindu editorial entitled Tweets and twits is an exercise in—there’s no other way to say this–deception. In the garb of condemning the recent Government ban on 300-odd online properties, it indulges in wholly uncalled-for insinuations and selective reasoning against one individual as well as groups.

The editorial, which begins by condemning the Government’s bizarre manner of blocking sundry websites then launches on a fairly elaborate explanation of Indian cyber laws. It characterises the Government’s ban order as having made no reference to any law, and that the emergency provision of, and indeed, the IT Rules of 2009 are opaque.

Interestingly, in the very next paragraph, the editorial throws the said reference to opacity to the winds. To quote, “Especially disturbing is the decision to block the Twitter handles of Right-wing agitators and one pro-Hindutva journalist. Bad taste, warped logic and chauvinist comment do not, by themselves, add up to hate speech or criminal incitement.” The Hindu, as one of the oldest dailies of repute, has accomplished several things in just this one sentence.

First, it has simply labelled people who espouse Right-wing leanings as “Right-wing agitators” without bothering to verify what these people actually say on Twitter and elsewhere. Basic journalistic norms, nay, norms of fairness dictate that one needs to do some amount of credible background research before making an opinion public. More so if such opinions show someone in poor light. As someone who frequently interacts with most of the “Right-wing agitators (sic)” on Twitter, I can testify that these are professionals from various walks of life; they’re well-read and care deeply about the Indian national interest. That the Hindu chose to apply this kind of blanket bracketing is in very poor taste. The Hindu seems to have reverse-applied “one swallow does not a summer make” quite nonchalantly in this editorial.

Second, the media put the DoT’s gag order on these Twitter accounts and websites in the public domain two days ago. The order clearly names @KanchanGupta as one of the Twitter accounts targeted for the ban. In fact, Kanchan Gupta has himself appeared on TV to air his views about the ban. Despite all this, one wonders why the Hindu merely contents itself with terming him a “pro-Hindutva” journalist.  Doesn’t the earlier remark about the lack of transparency in the IT Rules apply to journalistic transparency as well?

Third is the insinuation, which occurs in the same breath as “Right-wing agitators.” The import of this insinuation, according to the Hindu, is that people who lean to the Right are endowed with “bad taste, warped logic” and make “chauvinist comments,” which do not “by themselves, add up to hate speech or criminal incitement.” Such insinuations are beneath contempt but deserve our attention because they appear in a widely-read paper like the Hindu.

What is more revealing is the fact that the editorial has sympathy for an “anti-hate page on a Pakistani website” which was targeted for the ban but “which was one of the first to expose how fake photographs had been used to whip up Islamist passion on the Rakhine clashes in Myanmar.” In the Hindu’s worldview, every website and Twitter account that speaks for the Indian national interest and identifies with Hindu causes get shoved into the “Right-wing agitators” club whereas anti-hate Pakistani websites—commendable as they are—become showcases of excellence.

This has nothing to do with taking the blind line that ‘India is always good’ and ‘Pakistan is always bad’ but a call for editorial balance. Surely, if the Hindu could find an anti-hate Pakistani website, it could equally find dozens of anti-hate, pro-Right Indian websites and Twitter accounts that were similarly blocked.

It is really a shame that a paper like the Hindu, which was once known for integrity and high standards, has found the need to indulge in smear tactics, guilt-by-association and unfounded insinuations.


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Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna  is a Guest Contributor at Niti Central.