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The media's right to offend.

Something really queer: If this was a newspaper article, and I said that cat lovers generally smell bad, I'd be breaking the law!
Why? Because, it seems, my statement will offend cat lovers! Sweeping generalizations, satire, and jokes that hurt the sentiments of the minority (yes, yes, cat lovers are rare, people) are not just frowned upon, but are illegal.
To say the least, I think the "law" needs to do some self assessment and stop behaving like a prissy nursery school teacher (and yes, every bit of offense in this article is intended). No matter what spin people try to put on it, penalizing offensive opinions is going against the right to freedom of expression.
First off, the very principle of this law is ridiculous. No doubt, the public expression of offensive opinions is going to cause discontent and anger among people who disagree with the opinion. It might even lead to violence on the part of the offended party. The same way that accusing the school bully of being a jerk is going to cause... problems. But who the hell can blame anyone but the bully for this?
Any offended party has every right to argue the opinion they dislike. Most newspapers, as far as I remember, carry a letters to the editor column. If that route is difficult (say with a news channel), there is always another news source that will be only too happy to publicise informed opinion that counters the offense causing variant.
Isn't that the way we deal with offensive statements in daily life too? If someone says you are an evil mass murderer because you're fat (ahem!), you make an argument to the contrary, you snub the gal, or you ignore her and ask those who support you to ignore her.
If events were to prove that the slur on you was unsubstantiated, the mutt who slurred in the first place is going to be in hot water without you having to cry mama.
The same is the case with a news source. Someone making repeated racial slurs in their columns, or making factually incorrect statements many times is going to be known as biased and unreliable. What is the need for a law to "protect" the sentiments of people?
"To prevent the occurrence of violence!", says the random nut. Eh? Is there some law saying people with hurt sentiments can beat up the "offender"? Last I checked, violence was supposed to be prevented anyway, no matter the source. Or are you going to make the claim that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie is justified under some law?
I fail to see how diverting attention away from people who go Knife! Stab! Murder! every time they disagree with someone is the solution to any problem. It's them the law must concentrate on, not people expressing their opinions!
My second problem with this law is that many times, deliberately offensive opinion, in the form of satire, is a very legitimate way of discussing certain issues. Must this whole way of expression be curbed?
Thirdly, for the law to be effective, someone needs to decide in which cases the offending opinion is truly offensive. So, a few men in ridiculous wigs will decide if my offense is, in fact, valid enough for them to poke their nose in. Really? Then, oh ridiculously wigged ones, explain this to me: since when has it been the purview of the law to decide when a persons feeling is genuine?
Preventing offensive speech, it seems, not only interferes with the right to expression, but also the right to feel as you want about something. Extraordinary, in a system claiming to be a liberal democracy.
It's only to be expected, I suppose, in a society filled with pompous majorities and touchy minorities. But really, wake up people. Deal with offense like adults. Are your beliefs and values so tenuous that you need reassurance from the law that you are correct? Can't you stand up for yourself, as you do in daily life, when someone offends you?
To "mother" law: can you stop treating the media like a bunch of four year olds? The consequences of offending opinions are obvious to them. If they make a choice to go ahead anyway, they can shoulder any legal effect of their actions. All you need to do is ensure that they aren't threatened with violence, which is your job anyway.
And yes, all cat lovers, law worshipers, those affiliated to majorities or minorities... anyone, in fact, who feels offended by my opinions, there's a comments section below. Fight me!


Das said…
Media has the right to opinion and expression of facts and not 'OFFEND'. Media must be the guardian to uphold the rights of events in factual and not glorify for petty reasons. Very often we see contradictions of statements. It is obviously an after thought and such incidents create confusion and even mislead people from the truth.
Si_Lee said…
Well .. the law as such is not foolish and is certainly as per the sub clauses under the right to free speech/expression...
But the fact that more needs to be done to punish the miscreants who take part in violence is uncontested.
As far as the sensibility of people goes .. well not many of the 1.1 billion are aware Iyer .. a very few are .. even educated ppl with a certain outlook get swayed by such things .... so there is a certain threat from this act of offensive opinion ..
A personal feeling being genuine ... well don't express it out in the open if it can give rise to chaos and disharmony .. see the ideology behind the law is not foolish .. however i do not debate that the implementation hasnt exactly been in the right spirit .. will accept that any day on a week twice on a weekend ..
bookrazy said…
I think there needs to be a distinction between distortion of facts and offering legitimate, if offensive, opinion.
The first is often self-defeating, but must be penalized since done cleverly, it can, as you suggest, create confusion.
However, look at issues like the Prophet Mohammed cartoons. This was not a statement of fact. It wasn't news (and the news side of the media was not something I was really concentrating on in my post). It was an artistic expression of an opinion. No doubt, the legions of people who were offended had a right to be. But in our country, such cartoons would be penalized/censored. A movie that mocks something a section of people hold dear is censored to prevent inciting violence.
Look at the recent case of the ads of the movie "Wanted" being banned from British TV. Why? Because it "glamorizes" violence.
That is the opinion of a few people. Yet they are muzzling free speech here by banning the ad. So what if the movie glamorizes violence? Can it be denied that some people find action movies with their stunts and chases "cool" and glamorous?
All I'm saying is that the law has no place in the "media-public" interface.
Si_Lee said…
@ iyer ..
dude law does have a place .. but yes it needs to be more unbiased and mature in the way it decides to handle things ... saying that law has no place would be making a fool hardy statement .. see you and me sharing our opinions is fine .. no law is going to punish me if you go and say i abused you and you are offended by it .. defamation is there but thats also a lil more serious .. a court would not entertain your plea ..
with Media and polits its different .. the reach and the appeal they have .. the power to make an impression and create opinions possessed by them ...its of a totally different magnitude .. Look i am not saying they are doing a good job .. all i am saying is tht a lil control is needed ..
bookrazy said…
"As far as the sensibility of people goes .. well not many of the 1.1 billion are aware Iyer .. a very few are .. even educated ppl with a certain outlook get swayed by such things .... so there is a certain threat from this act of offensive opinion ..."

You're right that people get swayed by the media's opinion. I would argue that that is the point of the media! However, if anyone feels offended at this opinion and the way it is swaying others, can he ask the law to mediate on his behalf?
Lets consider a case here. A team of 1000 people are involved in the making of a movie X. Obviously, they think that they have made a brilliant movie.
A critic Y pans the movie. He writes a very negative review, which results in very poor earnings for the movie.
Can the makers of X sue Y? Worse, can the law, fearing violence from these 1000 people, censor Y's critique? Obviously no. This never happens.
Put a religion or a particular ideology in the place of the movie. Things change, don't they?
I know, I know... a religion cannot be equated with a movie. One is a recent artistic venture, the other is the set of beliefs of millions, and evokes far greater reactions.
But the point remains that by muzzling such "inciting" opinions, the Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression(not as defined by our constitution, but as defined by a normal understanding of its meaning) is being damaged.
Exceptions in the constitution to this right are practical, sure. But that cannot take away from the fact that fear of the masses is being allowed to curtail a fundamental right.
Si_Lee said…
Firstly if you refer to news media .. their job is to report not give opinions .. as in present the true picture .. it is not to sway public .. but to leave the incident open in front of the masses so that they can form their own opinions on it ..
and you see the problem is tht ppl are callous and go ahead and make general interpretations ..
its not an exception to the right .. the right is frramed as below

Nothing in sub-clause (right to freedom of expression) of clause (Right to Freedom) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of _16[the sovereignty and integrity of India,] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.]"""

take the Amarnath issue ... many ppl gave their opinions and they were quite candid but they en sured they bring out facts and keep it in the open .. the layman shall do the job of interpreting it ... that is what this media is supposed to do and do so in a unbiased manner ..
having said that ... Is the media itself responsible ?? can you give tht assurance when u say there should be no law in the media public interface ??
Tushar Mangl said…
u r absolutely rite Mr. Iyer.
But media is often very rite
and often very wrong. Too much confusion and clutter i will say
Sushant said…
I totally agree with the blogger! this is ridiculous.. adults in this country think and act like school children, come on grow up!!

as a result of this law ppl cant even express their personal opines in public! its come to an extent when censorship applies to everything.. Imagine, Billu movie had to remove the word barber from its name because the hairdressers' association dint like it????!!!!! WTF!!?? how can the word barber be repulsive or offending is beyond me!! its a freaking word in the language ppl!!

And India is the only country where "Actresses" are called actors!! go check up the oscars site and u'll see that the awards for "female actors" are labelled actresses! this thing is going out of control..

I think all this stems from insecurity and inferiority complex. There should a mass treatment camp organised for all Indians.. come Indians grow up!! deal with life as adults and stop crying ur eyes out whenever some one does or says something u dont like! This makes me sick!

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