People are up in arms over the Indian government's decision to block `objectionable' sites and blogs. And rightfully so. However in doing so, I think many of us are missing the point by miles. To address the issue, you've got to define it. My sense is that many have failed to do so. Let me try !
The 20 Sites/Blogs Or Something Else ?
What are we protesting ? Are we saying there is a freedom of speech/expression issue because 20 sites have been blocked ? In which case, we should protest when Da Vinci Code gets banned in some states, books like Satanic Verses get banned or for that matter Shivaji's biography. Or MF Hussain's painting. Of course there are many more books, paintings and movies which have been banned and not just because they are harmful to minors.
My point is you can't keep quiet for one form of content and get all roiled just because it gets delivered digitally. A digital delivery (if you ask me) does not make it any less `bannable', at least in principle. Yes of course you can download lots of other stuff which is banned in the physical world. But that's a reverse argument and may not work here !
So, if you are with your government on the fundamental issue of banning, or have not protested in the past, then you've got to pipe down. Else, protest all forms of bans on all forms of content.
The Government wants 20 sites to be banned. It sends out a notice to some 150 internet service providers asking them to do as much. Between their technological incompetence and their enthusiasm to please the Department of Telecom, many ISPs banned access to all sites with some extensions, blogspot being one example.
Now, that has nothing to do with freedom of expression. That is plain incompetence and a technical inability to manage firewalls and gateways. Am sure the Government has nothing to do with it. Nor does it want to. Yes, its order has resulted in the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. But its unintentional as I see it.
The guy you have to catch is your ISP who needs to ensure he blocks only those sites that the Government has asked him to. This takes a little hard work from what I understand. But then, its nothing to do with a clampdown on freedom of speech.
Once again, the ISP could be the overzealous MTNL or BSNL, going all out to keep some bureaucrat/politician happy. But that still does not alter the fundamental fact. That's not what the order is asking for. So, protesting in the general direction of the government is pointless.
Now, Does It Merit A Ban ?
Now comes the issue of merit. Is a website that is vaguely attacking Left leaning political parties elsewhere in the world harmful to our digestive process. Am not sure. Is a website that directly or indirectly urges anti-national forces to rally together harmful ? Yes it is. Should we let it be in the interests of complete freedom of speech. Am not sure. You need a very, very liberal approach for this. In any case, this is a separate debate.
Either way, it boils down to a discussion on whether the content on a certain platform (in this case digital) is subversive or dangerous ? It could be magazines, newspapers, films, books or paintings. And what should be done about it. That again is a larger issue which needs to be tackled separately. It has little to do with blogs or websites. Both are delivery platforms for information and opinion. So, lets not make this is a blogs and websites issue. Focus on the fundamental issue if you want to and/or have the energy to. Till then, happy blogging.
PS: My ISP seems to have held on to his horses, at least so far