Freedom of speech must not extend to right to offend: Tewari

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 29, 2013 13:01 hrs

New Delhi: "Democratisation" of the information sector, with easy access to news and social media platforms, should take into account implications on social ethics and norms, and freedom of speech should not extend to the right to offend, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said here Tuesday.

Addressing a function of the Broadcast Engineering Society, Tewari said media should take to self-regulation "as an instinct".

"With the democratization of the information paradigm, it has to take into account what are the implications on social ethics, social milieu, social norms... Freedom of speech should not extend to the right to offend", he continued, adding that a "remedy" should be found to the issue.

Referring to social media, Tewari said there is "need to make a distinction between right to privacy and the right to know".

"The right to anonymity can be corrosive to social order," he said.

The minister's comments can be seen in reference to many postings critical of the government by anonymous accounts as well as imposter accounts posing as the Prime Minister's Office or poking fun at the prime minister on the social media network Twitter.

The minister said the broadcasting space has seen a huge expansion in the past two decades, from one broadcaster in 1990 to over 850 television channels, while FM radio has also expanded in the past five years. The social media has also expanded with around seven crore users.

This posed a question "whether regulation has been able to keep pace with the march of technology," said Tewari.

"For orderly development of any sector, it is a prerequisite that enabling regulations of statutory architecture should keep pace with the changes as it unfolds," he added.

On TRPs and sensationalism in TV media, Tewari said the issue needs to be deliberated whether it is due to the "skewed revenue model or an addiction that people have got into".

Taking a dig at the media and civil society, he said it was an "oxymoron" that while parliament and judiciary were "self-governed" institutions, the media "resents" any regulations and civil society "self-governs every truth". But both feel "the government should be regulated".

This, he said, comes in the way when the government needs "a little latitude and flexibility for risk taking" which is important to "build societies, renew institutions".

Information and Broadcasting Secretary Uday Kumar Varma, on the occasion, pointed out the need to come up with "universalized" set top boxes which could accept the signal of any service provider.

Varma said while medium wave radio frequencies have been digitalized, enough has not been done to procure radio signal receiving sets.

"We are waiting for the radio sets to hit the market," he said, and added that digital medium wave "is the only alternative to an efficient radio system".

He also said the "measurement of TRPs" was an issue of concern. "When TRPs becomes the reason for determining content, it is legal ground for the government to intervene," Varma said, and added "there was no fair deal from the existing system of TRPs".

Varma wondered why India needs to import the TRP mechanism. "Whey is our country not able to have our own TV viewing measurement system? Why import a measurement system that is far from accurate"? he stressed.

Prasar Bharati - which controls national broadcaster Doordarshan - has been critical of the present system of recording television rating points (TRP), saying that TAM (global rating agency) data "completely under-represents the terrestrial and rural reach of Doordarshan".

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