“Best if media themselves maintain balance between free speech and responsibility”
“The right to free speech and expression includes the right to offend,” said Manish Tiwari on Thursday adding the caveat that this right should be balanced by the availability of a robust set of remedies to the other side. “Our ability to tolerate is going down,” Union Minister of State (Independent) for Information and Broadcasting said, calling the phenomenon “a paradox of the short fuse” — intolerance growing in direct proportion to explosion of information.
Mr. Tiwari, who was at a press meet organised by the Indian Women’s Press Corps, said it was best that the media themselves maintained the balance between free speech and responsibility because the media’s failure to do so could result in the intervention of other institutions. He gave the example of the Supreme Court’s guidelines on covering sensitive trials: “If self-regulation is robust, then statutory regulation would be used most sparingly.”
Mr. Tiwari said if the question was put to him whether the right to free expression included the right to offend, he would say, “yes, it does” provided robust remedies were available to the other side. The Minister’s response to the communication clampdown in Kashmir in the aftermath of the hanging of Afzal Guru, was that this was done from the perspective of law and order which fell in the exclusive domain of the States. The compulsions were stronger in States affected by insurgency and separatist movements.
Quizzed on the frequent government advisories to broadcasters, Mr. Tiwari said his government was not a regulator by instinct but since it was answerable to Parliament it stepped in with advisories when there were aberrations. “We are cognisant that a healthy working press is fundamental to healthy democracy. There is a small space within which we intervene.” The Minister said there was no case for containing the social media “which is not containable.”