Science & Technology

‘Social media should be restricted before voting in India’

There are over 30 crore monthly active users on Facebook and more than 20 crore on WhatsApp in India. Even the Narendra Modi app alone can reach 1 crore people in a day.

With such a wide reach, should social media platforms be made to censor political content 48 hours ahead of polling as part of the strategy to maintain the so called “campaign silence”?

“Today, when social media is increasingly one of the most significant factors for impacting the electoral decisions of voters, it is important that the Election Commission take adequate steps to maintain campaign silence,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS.

While the Election Commission of India recognises the impact social media can have on voters ahead of voting, the current legislation does not bar these platforms – many of which now allow live video streaming services — from blocking political ads or propaganda.

These platforms can decide to do so voluntarily, but how effective such a measure would be remains doubtful.

In fact, in response to a petition to restrain any political advertisements, videos or messages before elections, Facebook last month told the Bombay High Court that it would not self-censor any content on its site.

It also raised practical difficulties of implementing such a rule as elections in different parts of India are held on different dates and often spread over a week.

The Election Commission last year formed a committee to review this section so that maintaining campaign silence can be made effective in the changed circumstances where social media yields considerable influence. The committee submitted its recommendation earlier this year.

A query to the poll panel on how it plans to stop social media platforms from broadcasting campaign material ahead of polling went unanswered.

“The Election Commission does not need to be a silent spectator,” Duggal said.

“The Election Commission should invoke the provisions of the specific liability of the service providers in their capacity as intermediaries under the Information Technology Act, 2000,” he said.

A parliamentary panel earlier this month raised grave concerns regarding Facebook’s ability to prevent misuse of its platform during the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and to proactively help the security agencies.

The social media company admitted it doesn’t “always get it right” regarding content moderation on its platform.

Last month, Colin Crowell, Global Vice President of Public Policy of Twitter, deposed before the BJP MP Anurag Thakur-led panel and discussed how it would address issues such as political bias and manipulation on its platform in real-time.

With threats of foreign interference in Indian elections and spread of fake news on social media looming large, specific, detailed, deterrent legal and penal consequences need to be specifically elaborated in the Act so as to provide criminal, legal and penal liability of the various social media platforms, Duggal informed.



Journalist bodies condemn move to muzzle media

The Editors Guild of India on Thursday said it was perturbed by the reported threats that criminal action will be initiated against journalists or lawyers who use documents pertaining to Rafale fighter jet deal with France.

The Press Club of India, the Indian Women’s Press Corps and the Press Association also expressed “deep concern” on the development.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that petitions seeking an inquiry into the Rafale fighter jet deal were based on documents “stolen” from the Defence Ministry.

And the government would initiate “criminal proceedings” since the documents were related to sensitive military purchases and were covered by the Official Secrets Act, he said.

The Guild condemned the Attorney General’s remarks and said any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against journalists would be reprehensible.

“Although the Attorney General later clarified that the investigation and contemplated action would not be initiated against journalists or lawyers who used these documents, the Guild is perturbed over such threats. These will intimidate the media in general and curb its freedom to report and comment on the Rafale deal in particular,” the Guild said in a statement.

It further said that asking journalists to disclose their sources was also reprehensible.

“The Guild denounces these threats and urges the government to refrain from initiating any action that might undermine the media’s freedom and independence,” the statement said.

A joint statement issued by Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps and Press Association expressed “deep concern” at the statements made by Venugopal.

“The Attorney General’s statements made in open court suggesting that the publication of such reports and the documents imperiled national security and therefore should be deemed as criminal has the potential of sending out a chilling effect to one and all in the media,” said the statement.

The journalist bodies said that the fourth estate was bound by its dual responsibility of reporting what is in public interest as well as raising questions, irrespective of the government in power.

“It is deeply unfortunate that it is the discharge of this responsibility that is being sought to be stymied by top ranking officials of the government. We feel it is time that the Official Secrets Act as well as law on Defamation are re-examined given the potential of their misuse against the Fourth Estate,” the statement added.




Goa Minister slams social media posts on Parrikar’s health

A Goa Minister on Monday slammed social media posts for speculations on Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s health, saying they were like “essays for competition”.

“This is not right. The Chief Minister has contributed a lot to the state of Goa and I think we should allow him that much privacy,” Health Minister Vishwajit Rane told the media here after meeting Parrikar at the Goa Medical College.

“There are a lot of things coming in the media. I have been negating it, because you are not privy to anything. I am the only one who knows what is happening inside. There is no question of any kind of bleeding. We are not discussing that. Only thing whatever discomfort he has been having, that has been addressed. He is in perfect shape now,” Rane added.

The Health Minister also said that a team of doctors led by AIIMS’ Associate Dean of Gastroenterology Pramod Garg, which arrived in Goa on Sunday to examine Parrikar, would be returning to the national capital on Monday and that another team of doctors would arrive to examine “another medical issue”.

Rane also said Parikkar’s health parameters were normal.

Parrikar was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in February 2018 and has been in and out of hospitals in Goa, Mumbai, Delhi and New York since.



PMO has ‘no record’ of Modi’s media interactions; RTI

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) apparently has no records of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s media interactions for over four years, an RTI query revealed here on Friday.

Mumbai-based RTI activist Anil Galgali had posed the query on December 8, 2018, seeking full details of Modi’s media interactions, live interviews and press conferences since he came to power in 2014.

Galgali also asked for details of how many media representatives or media houses had requested for interviews or meetings, and those who were permitted to conduct live or recorded interviews.

“On January 7, a PMO Under Secretary Pravin Kumar gave a reply, promising to reply soon. But, for 68 days there was no response, so I filed the first appeal under RTI,” Galgali told IANS.

This time, Kumar promptly replied stating that Modi’s interactions with press representatives were “both structured and unstructured” and therefore, the information sought was not available on record, the RTI activist said.

“This is strange. The PMO is expected to reply immediately, but it adopted time consuming information to deliberately delay providing the required details. Even the information made available after the first appeal appears to be misleading and partial,” Galgali said.

“The PMO could have simply clarified whether a press conference was organized or not, instead of delaying the replies.”

According to the activist, the PMO has indirectly placed Modi in an embarrassing position by refusing to part with the information.



INX media case; Karti Chidambaram appears before ED for questioning

Karti Chidambaram, the son of former Finance Minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram, on Thursday appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in connection with its probe into the INX media case.

Karti, arrived at the ED’s Jamnagar office in central Delhi at 11.05 a.m.

He will be questioned under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

P. Chidambaram has been asked to appear before the financial probe agency on February 8.

Karti has been questioned on several occasions in the case being probed by the ED as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Both the agencies are probing how Karti managed to get clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in 2007 when his father held the Finance Minister portfolio.

Karti was arrested on February 28, 2018, by the CBI for allegedly accepting money to facilitate the FIPB clearance to INX Media. He was later granted bail.

Karti’s chartered accountant S. Bhaskararaman was also arrested and released on bail later.

The agency has also questioned the senior Congress leader twice in the case for giving FIPB clearance to the INX group.

The ED had registered a PMLA case based on a CBI FIR and alleged that irregularities took place in the FIPB clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007.

The ED probe so far showed that for the FIPB approval, INX Media directors Peter and Indrani Mukerjea met P. Chidambaram so that there was no hold-up or delay in their application.

The ED has said that the money so received by associated entities was channelled back into the ASCPL.

The ED has attached properties worth Rs 54 crore belonging to Karti and a firm in the case. It has also attached properties belonging to the Mukerjeas in connection with the same case.

INX media case: Karti Chidambaram appears before ED for questioning



HC allows Chidambaram to file additional documents in INX Media case

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday allowed former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to place some additional documents on record to support his pending anticipatory bail plea in the INX Media case.

Justice Sunil Gaur allowed Chidambaram’s application seeking to file additional documents.

Chidambaram’s move came after the Law Ministry informed the government that there was no legal infirmity in granting the CBI the sanction to prosecute the former Minister.

The plea, filed through advocate Arshdeep Singh, said, “On February 3, it was widely reported that the Law Ministry has informed the Central government that sanction can be granted to the CBI to prosecute the petitioner (Chidambaram) in the instant case.

“It appears that the opinion of the Law Ministry was sought on the request for grant of sanction made by the CBI against the petitioner.”

The counsel further said these facts on record show that the CBI has completed its investigation into the case.

On January 25, the Delhi High Court reserved order on Chidambaram’s bail plea in the INX Media case being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The investigating agencies had opposed Chidambaram’s bail plea, saying that custodial interrogation of the former Finance Minister was necessary as he was evasive and had given false information during his questioning.

Chidambaram is on interim protection from arrest granted by the Delhi High Court.

The ED and the CBI are probing how his son Karti Chidambaram managed to get clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in 2007 when his father was the Finance Minister.

Karti Chidambaram was arrested on February 28 by the CBI for allegedly accepting money to facilitate the FIPB clearance to INX Media. He was later granted bail.

Karti’s chartered accountant S. Bhaskararaman was also arrested and released on bail later.