The blogosphere practically exploded today with protests against NDTV’s silencing of a blogger’s criticism of Barkha Dutt’s coverage of the Mumbai attacks. Before I link to everybody else who has written on this, I would like to point you to the Google cache of the original post that was later deleted by Kunte. That’s not enough.
We all need to write about just why NDTV’s actions are reprehensible. They probably threatened to sue the poor blogger for libel. But, for what? For quoting a Wikipedia entry that criticises Barkha Dutt’s handling of the Kargil War? Or for commenting on what all of us saw on television for more than three days? Many other bloggers have made the point much better than I can. Trailblazer, Gaurav Sabnis, Shripriya, Rohit, and Prem Panicker have made the point several times over.
But, I have one question for Barkha Dutt and Co. They were justified in feeling insulted that one blogger, sitting at home and watching television criticised them. They chose to sue. The allegations against them were, in their opinion baseless and libellous. So, they agree that people are free to sue for libel. Right? In that case, would they tender an unconditional apology to the Talwars for slandering them after the murder of their 14-year old daughter? Would they retract all the speculations they made on national television of the sordid details of Dr. Rajesh Talwar’s adulterous relationship with his colleague? Would they offer to bring back the time the family lost in mourning their daughter? Can they do it? Ever?
Would they apologise to the Unnikrishnans for airing the news of their son’s death even before it was communicated officially to the family, thus shocking them into learning of such a tragic news through a flash running at the bottom of their television screens? Would they apologise for shoving mics, rather insensitively, into the face of the worried husband of a trapped guest at the Oberoi, and asking him how he felt? I guess not. Because they call it freedom of speech. So, according to them, freedom of speech is only for multi-million dollar businesses that are nothing better than money-making ventures. It does not apply to individual people like Cheytanya Kunte who was bullied into withdrawing his post and apologising for citing a Wikipedia entry. Right?
Wrong. Because we live in a democracy. Because we are free to express whatever opinion we want. Because NDTV, like all other news channels, is in a business that leaves them vulnerable to criticism. Because Kunte’s post does not, and never did, fall into the category of libel. And because, as a blogger, as a human being, and as a citizen of India, I genuinely believe in the freedom of expression. Also because, the freedom of expression must apply to everyone, irrespective of money, race, sex, caste, creed or identity. Today, NDTV has silenced one blogger. Let’s see how many other bloggers they can silence. Let’s see how successful Ms. Dutt and her friends are at silencing its critics. If we are true to ourselves, our voices will be heard, whether NDTV wants it to be heard or not.