Internet and Digital Media Freedom: Where does India stand?

Internet has become a very important part of democracy across the world. We have seen social media put to peaceful use in Egypt and very recently in India for its fight against corruption. Many countries have put a leash on internet to suppress the democratic rights of their citizens. At the same time we must recognize how bad elements misuse the internet to bring harm to the society & nation. But who decides if a particular country provides sufficient ‘Internet Freedom’?

Thanks to my colleague Hari, I came across the report from Freedom House. They have created a unique methodology to assess the full range of elements that comprise digital media freedom,

This report examines internet freedom in 37 countries around the globe. The study’s findings indicate that the threats to internet freedom are growing and have become more diverse. Cyber attacks, politically-motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure have emerged as especially prominent threats.

The digital freedom world map pans out as one would have expected. Countries like US, Australia, parts of Europe have lot of digital freedom. Many (including me) might not have expected to see Brazil in that list. Estonia ranks the best (score 10) and Iran is the worst (score 89).

  • POPULATION: 1.2 billion
  • INTERNET PENETRATION: 5 percent
  • WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: No
  • SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: No
  • BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes
  • PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Partly Free
India Internet Freedom Report
from Freedom House
20092011
Internet Freedom StatusPartly FreePartly Free
Obstacles to Access1212
Limits on Content78
Violations of Human Rights1516
Total (on a scale of 100, lower the score the better)3436

According to this report, post 26/11 attacks on Mumbai (which were sponsored by the Pak govt & ISI), the govt of India has felt the increased need of monitoring the communication on the internet & mobile. The report rightly mentions about the confusion of number of internet users in India, each report has a different number.

India rightly doesn’t restrict the access of sites like YouTube, Twitter & Facebook, which is a luxury in countries like China.

Starting a cyber cafe in India has become more complex, one needs approvals from six agencies. In my opinion, in the interest of national cyber security, such steps are fine as long as approvals are given to genuine people quickly.

Content Control

While the government doesn’t block content to a large extent, such blocking has been enforced during times of war (Kargil war). However, government measures to institute administrative processes for removing certain content from the web, sometimes for fear they could incite violence, have become more common in recent years.

Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) serves as a nodal agency for accepting and reviewing requests from a designated pool of government officials to block access to specific websites. CERT-IN can decide to block a site without giving an opportunity for the site owner to present their case. The report mentions there is no public list of such blocked sites. Recently Medianama published the list of sites that were blocked by the Govt of India.

While many have a tendency to bash the govt for everything they do, I do feel comments that are intentionally posted to ignite violence, unrest should be deleted. There is nothing wrong in the govt requesting the site owner to bring down such anti-national and communal content.

It has become a known fact how few leading journalists don’t like being criticized by bloggers. These bloggers ultimately are forced to remove their thoughts about journalists because of threats from media houses. In my opinion this cannot be seen as a fault of the government. This has to do more about the muscle power of powerful media houses.

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