IS SOCIAL MEDIA THE RIGHT PLATFORM TO EXERCISE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION?
When Australian great Greg Chappell-coached Indian cricket team embarrassingly exited from the 2007 Cricket World Cup, fortunately there was no social media to singe great cricketers including Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav 1 Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag. But media lost no time in questioning Tendulkar’s ability by speculating on ‘Endulkar’. Tendulkar responded to the ‘Endulkar’ jibe more than five years later in his book ‘Playing It My Way’. He said: “Headlines like ‘Endulkar’ hurt deeply. After 18 years in international cricket, it was tough to see things come to this and retirement crossed my mind.” That is what a carelessly exercised right to free speech can do even to the greatest of players. Mercifully, Tendulkar did not retire because of the jibe from a journalist who probably had never faced pacers even in ‘gali’ cricket. In the next five years (2007 to 2012), Tendulkar scored eight centuries in ODIs, that included his career best 200 not out. Last week, another careless remark was thrown at Virat Kohli who, if he continues the way he is at present, may emerge as one of the greatest cricketers. A Twitter user dismissed Kohli as an ‘overrated batsman’ and went on to make a blind-folded remark – “I have seen nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than this Indian.” Well, it is not expected from an irrepressible Kohli to wait, like Tendulkar, to write an autobiography years later to gentlemanly respond to this jibe. He responded with a waspish ‘leave India’ comment and disturbed a hornet’s nest on twitter. To put the records straight, Kohli fares as good as Steven Smith and Joe Root when their home and away performances are compared. But, the batsman must have learnt a lesson – in unforgiving social media, it’s a victory if your comment hurt someone somewhere. Bland and matter of fact views have no takers. Right to free speech, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, is never meant to be a licence to vilify or cause pain and hurt to others. Right to free speech is meant to guarantee right to air a fair comment and definitely not a protection for expressing whatever that crossed one’s mind. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his immortal and best known work ‘Gitanjali’, a spiritual prose-verse epitomising his unshaken faith in God and composed when he was struck with unfathomable personal grief in the quick passing away of his father, wife, daughter and a son. Gurudev would have surely ignored or pardoned, but how would his followers react if one tweets – “He is a much overrated author; I have seen nothing special in his writings. I enjoy reading English and Australian authors more than this Indian”. The person making this comment, if not physically assaulted, would have found fiery comments roasting his free speech. That fate would also await anyone if s/he took a similar ‘overrated’ jibe at motor-mouthed social activists who regularly fill social media with their views and show intolerance towards anyone criticisng them. The trend is repeated if anyone dared to criticis the right or left wing activists. Absolute adherence to being politically correct is the theme that governs social media. Be they from left, right or centrist alignments, users of social media, which provides a great platform for free speech, camouflage as champions of free speech but verbally lynch anyone who does not fall in line with a particular line of discourse articulated by them. Recommended By Colombia Recently, there has been a campaign on twitter questioning CJI Ranjan Gogoi and the Supreme Court for rejecting bail plea of a certain someone, accused of making disparaging comments against Konark Sun temple architecture which is considered a place of pride by Odias, and telling him that ‘jail is the safest place’ if he was apprehending threat to his life in Odisha during trial. Those eager to secure right to free speech of the one arrested, did not utter a word in sympathy for the cold-looded murder of TV journalist Achyutananda Sahu at Dantewada by Maoists. No one raised the issue of his right to life and right to profession, the inter-connected fundamental rights which are more important than freedom of speech and expression. No one questioned the Maoists! Right to free speech has another limitation – right to reputation anddignity of others, which is part of right to life. That is the reason right to free speech is circumscribed by civil and criminal defamation. The fear of defamation, especially the criminal course, was meant to make persons to be sure of their facts before making an allegation, comment or jibe in public against another.