Democracy and free press are inseparable concepts, so the renewed fervour we notice to the “debate” over the mutually complementary issues should be welcomed. Especially as we take a look at the foreground with a sense of anticipation: The digital security enactment has moved from the Speaker to the President for his assent under a tapestry of a promised review of, and amendment to, certain provisions of the legislation. The Editors' Council has urged the changes with, one may add, forceful arguments in professional and national interests that resonate with a rights-based collective psyche across the board.
Reports pertaining to possible stepped up utilisation of social media by the ruling AL and the opposition BNP in the forthcoming election campaigns most probably presaged a tough digital law.
It is important to note here that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is adept in the art of imaginatively using social media has said, “There should be no government interference in the functioning of the media.”
Away in Britain, after the Rupert Murdoch scandal centring since-defunct widely-circulated News of the World tabloid where policemen were bribed to hack telephone calls of some targeted persons, the Murdoch empire in Britain, had closed down. Consequently, the Levison Commission was set up to suggest as to where the government should come in with a monitoring role in a newspaper should that be deemed necessary. The Levison Commission strongly recommended “independent self-regulation” in a stout defence of press autonomy as an enabler of ferreting out the truth.
Here you may like to soak up a distinction between the British quest for subjective truth and the American training of its sights on objective truth.
That is why in the American eye, Assange “destroyed the innocent optimism about the web”, and is an information anarchist.
India has hit the middle road in dealing with the Fourth Estate adopting self-regulation but under a statutory regulatory body which happens to be the Press Council of India. This was established by an act of Parliament in 1966. It has a majority representation from the journalist community. And the decisions are taken by the majority with a journalistic imprint on them. It is surely noteworthy that there's an internal news ombudsman in The Hindu.
What, however, stands out is the Indian Supreme Court having conferred a special protection privilege on the press.
So the two principles that ensure abiding by media obligations are “regulation, not control” and the provision for being judged by peers in the face of professional infractions.
Tony Blair in his 10-year rule in Britain dished out a new law every three hours. The corpus of laws created by him was so large—a 22 percent rise overall on the previous decade—that critics tended to maintain that new laws meant creation of new offences. What a police slap on the wrist could suffice as a mild warning to a minor offender during Tony Blair's time, a new law turned it to a focused, identified cognisable crime.
World raised vertically through corporatisation is now spread horizontally—thanks to social media. Oceanic in content and torrential in ideas, social media platforms offer instant gratification and open the floodgates to spill the beans or spread wicked to vicious messages across continents.
The malware havoc wreaked last year, the largest attack in internet history had the cyber forensic experts (perennially caught on a learning curve) and remediation alliances working overtime to get to the bottom of it. Yet the efforts produced little antidote to prevent a recurrence which, to our horror occurred, leaving a very large number of Facebook accounts tampered with.
What happened to Facebook's, Google's and Apple's much-vaunted resolve to introduce pre-filtration of entries on to their platforms? Why are they cagey about it? They know it full well that they too need to be ethical for humanity's sake. National governments must be too keen to cooperate in such a high-minded agenda.
At any rate, there are two simple but reliable methods for verification of information in Britain for example which can be easily replicated here: First, the Facts Check Website; and secondly, the government's freedom of information law which guarantees a reply to a query in 14 days. Both could help avoid the spread of misinformation.
Shah Husain Imam is Adjunct Faculty, East West University, a commentator on current affairs, and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.