It is sure to backfire on the government should it introduce the directives aimed at curtailing the freedom of speech

Minister of Communications and Information Technology Parbat Gurung last week announced that the ministry would introduce new directives to prevent online media and social networking sites from spreading hateful messages. There is no doubt that social networking sites and online media have been flooded with hateful messages and fabricated news since the dissolution of the parliament on December 20. All walks of life have been divided in favour or against the dissolution of the parliament.

Hence, it is obvious that such kinds of hateful messages and unfounded news are circulated in the society through the electronic media given the volatility of the political situation. As information is power, everybody is engaging in a smearing and mudslinging campaign against the opponent leader(s) or faction(s), no matter what the future consequences.

False information circulates faster than true ones in this age of the internet, which has made everybody well connected with the world. However, false information and hateful messages on the social networking sites and online media are short-lived. A reader will easily find out the truth once s/he goes through the messages posted on the electronic media.

But by that time, one's own public reputation has already been damaged.

While such acts are condemnable to the maximum extent possible, the government, however, cannot introduce directives aimed at curtailing the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution.

The government also does not have any effective mechanism to monitor or determine which one is a hateful message and which one is true information circulated in the electronic media. A piece of information may be false in the eyes of the government, but it might be true in the eyes of the opponents.

It all depends on the perspective when looking at a thing. What the government can do in such a situation is to issue an official refusal or denial when fabricated news or information is circulated in the electronic or other mass media.

The beauty of democracy is that everybody is free to air his or her views in a peaceful manner. If someone's public or private reputation has been damaged due to the circulation of hateful comments or fabricated news, the affected party can knock at the door of the court. There are several Acts such as the Defamation Act, Privacy Act and Cyber Act, which are already in practice. These Acts can be used to control objectionable statements or remarks that are made against anyone else. The new directives, which are under discussion, have the sole motive of creating fear in the public's mind. It is sure to backfire on the government should it introduce the directives aimed at curtailing the freedom of speech. Previous governments had also tried to introduce such fiats to gag the freedom of speech. But they had to back out after facing much public criticism. There also is high probability of such directives being grossly misused to target individuals who are vehemently critical of the government's policies and actions. If the government deems the existing laws are not enough to regulate the electronic media it can amend them through a due process.

Save our rivers

There is a heavy demand for construction materials in India, and smugglers are willing to pay any price to get them through the border, even if this means the use of violence. At least five Armed Police Force (APF) personnel were injured when about 60 Indian nationals attacked them on Friday while trying to stop the illegal export of sand. The APF personnel were attacked with domestic weapons after they tried to prevent seven trucks that were carrying sand from the Oriya Khola to India. It is said sand worth millions of rupees are mined from the river and taken to India on a daily basis.

With the heavy construction taking place in India as its economy grows, there is going to be more and more demand for construction materials from Nepal, which threatens our rivers and forests. Despite government efforts to rein in on the illegal extraction of boulders, stones and sand from the river beds, unscrupulous people in nexus with the local politicians carry on their business. With smuggling of construction materials getting more organised, with goons on the payroll, border patrolling must be enhanced to prevent an environmental and ecological disaster in the near future.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 15, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.