Bloggers and blogging have come to the news again with a Supreme Court ruling on the latest case of Ajith, an 18 yr old blogger from Kerala. Ajith had started an Orkut community against Shiv Sena and the community message board had received messages alleging that Shiv Sena is trying to divide the country on region and caste basis.
Times of India reports on blogger Ajith’s case:
Reacting to these posts, the Shiv Sena youth wing’s state secretary registered a criminal complaint at Thane police station in August 2008 based on which FIR was registered against Ajith under Sections 506 and 295A pertaining to hurting public sentiment.
Ajith then sought an anticipatory bail from Kerala High Court and approached Supreme Court to quash the criminal complaint. But the SC did not favour the blogger. SC bench said “We cannot quash criminal proceedings. You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals. Hence, if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.” Now the boy has to face the court in Maharashtra, the home of Shiv Sena, and he is afraid of his life for obvious reasons.
One of the main advantages of blogging is that it allows you to express your opinion freely and fearlessly. Agreed that some bloggers misuse this, i.e. indulging in personal abuse, and such people should be brought to law if the offended person decides to do so and if there is a strong case. I emphasize on the word “strong case” because there should not be a situation where anyone can drag anyone to court based on mere allegations. In the light of new ruling, bloggers would resort to politically correct statements, which would not help much in open debates and discussions and it will take out the spirit of blogging and make it function like mainstream media.
Another sad thing is that the court now says that a blogger can be booked for the comments posted in his/her blog. It is true that mainstream media has such laws applicable to them, but blogging does not function like main mainstream media. Blogging is an opinion medium, not a reporting medium and should be kept at that and exceptions of law should be made in that line.
But bloggers are not above the law. Perhaps the discussions on Ajith’s case would make bloggers become more responsible in their writing. By citing proofs/data/references to backup their statements/claims, which is good in the long run for a maturing media like Blog.
Now let us look into what the Delaware Supreme Court (in the USA) ruled in a similar case back in 2005. They reversed a lower court decision that had required an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger who targeted a local elected official on a newspaper site. Following were the comments from Chief Justice Myron Steele:
“Given the context, no reasonable person could have interpreted these statements as being anything other than opinion. … The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning,” Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote in his ruling, noting that blogs are inherently filled with opinion.
Steele described the Internet as a “unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before,” and said anonymous speech in blogs and chat rooms in some instances can become the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering. Accordingly, a plaintiff claiming defamation should be required to provide sufficient evidence to overcome a defendant’s motion for summary judgment before a court orders the disclosure of a blogger’s identity.
“We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously,” Steele wrote. “The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all.”
Now compare this with our Supreme Court rule in Ajith’s case and think about it.