News Heading : India's 'clamp' on Internet freedoms
Post Date : 2011-12-23
News Source : Gulf Daily News
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If it's affordable gadgets you're looking to give this Christmas, then you might be in luck.
Priced at $60 (BD23), the world's cheapest tablet computer was launched earlier this year, thanks to the efforts of the Indian Information Ministry.
If you're going to university in India, it gets better because the price is subsidised - meaning it costs you just $35.
It was supposed to be the great leveller of the digital divide, giving almost anyone access to information at any time. What could be better?
Well, that was until the ministry decided to put a damper on everybody's Christmas joy. You see, elimination of the digital divide came with a rider - you can surf the Internet, but the ministry will decide what's fit to be published and what constitutes abuse.
Mirroring policies implemented in neighbouring China, Internet freedoms have come under much strain this year in India.
Information and Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal has requested social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to pre-screen content to curb "defamatory" language.
At a Press conference with representatives of social networking websites, besides those from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, he pointed out pictures allegedly defaming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi.
As there has been an unprecedented outcry against the government over corruption, social networking sites have become popular tools with which to criticise political leaders.
However, the move to stamp out online defamation fuelled more content that Mr Sibal would describe as "abuse".
Newspapers condemned increased restrictions against freedom of the Press and individuals' right to dissent.
What's more interesting is that this is happening in a country that is supposed to be the world's largest democracy.
At a time when dictators are being toppled through revolution, why is it that censorship is creeping in at places where you would least expect to find it?
It is highly unlikely that the Internet could ever be censored in India, mainly because of the sheer amount of users and the volume of traffic and content that is practically unmanageable.
The Arab world, on the other hand, has seemingly embraced the new social media revolution.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal recently acquired a $300m (BD113m) stake in Twitter, a move that has garnered mixed reactions.
Some are concerned about his motives given his links to global media giants such as Rupert Murdoch and the politics of his own country.
However, given his rather progressive views and his wife's championing of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, those concerns could be unfounded.
According to the Social Media in the Arab World report commissioned by the Dubai School of Government, social networking sites have witnessed a surge in use in the region - especially from those aged 15 to 29.
Bahrain, incidentally, ranks high among countries that contribute to the Twitter traffic from the Arab region.
There is hope yet from this research that Internet freedom will not become a thing of the past.
However, if you are in India you may want to book those low-cost tablet computers now - before they're withdrawn from the market altogether.