Drowning Voices

How legal frameworks are being used to throttle free speech and the media

01 December 2023
ILLUSTRATION BY SIDDHESH GAUTAM
ILLUSTRATION BY SIDDHESH GAUTAM

On 10 November 2023, the ministry of information and broadcasting released the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill. This was the fifth piece of legislation that the Narendra Modi government introduced over the past two years with the stated aim of creating a regulatory framework for a fast-changing media landscape. These bills equip the state with dangerous tools and provisions to control and clamp down on critical voices and free speech.

It started with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. This was followed by the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022. Then came the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, which was passed in August. Around that time, the Rajya Sabha also passed the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill. There is also the much talked about, and yet mysterious, Digital India Bill, which will replace the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Through these laws, the government will create an Orwellian framework that will distribute powers to control media, censor content and target critical voices. The dangerous beauty of this framework is that each bill touches upon only certain key aspects that may be crucial for freedom of speech, but, together, they constitute a gargantuan web that is difficult to escape. Their fine print contains mechanisms and provisions that expand the government’s powers to monitor media outlets, allowing it to restrict, or even remove, content that it deems problematic, as well as to deny certain individuals the right to run print publications. In many instances, the government has given itself these sweeping powers without any judicial oversight and against the principles of natural justice. 

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    Keywords: Personal Data Protection Bill Indian Telecommunication Bill Digital India freedom of speech
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