New Delhi: In the wake of a face-off between the government and the Internet firms on the issue of offensive contents, the Centre on Tuesday clarified that it does not want to curtail the freedom of the press but cautioned that it can’t allow the social media to run provocative material.
Addressing a press conference in the national capital, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said, “This government does not believe in censorship and we have shown this time and again. But we will also not allow anyone to play with the religious sentiments of a large numbers of communities residing in the country.”
Speaking to reporters, the Telecom Minister said, “Few months back we came to know that some social networking websites including Google, Facebook, Twitter and the likes have posted some highly objectionable content, without realizing the damage they could cause to the people of different communities living here.”
Categorically denying it as a move to censor social networking websites, Sibal said, “The Internet companies should be sensitive about community standards in India and it is their responsibility to find solutions to the problem".
Asking the social networking media to evolve a guideline or a mechanism to check such provocative content, the minister said, “On September 05, I had a meeting with the representatives of Internet firms and asked them to find a way to ensure that such material is not carried as the same was perceived to be provocative and insensitive to the feelings of various communities. We told that some of the content published by them was insulting and obscene and they also agreed to this.”
“However, they did not respond in the given time frame so we sent them a reminder again,” he added.
Sibal regretted that the representative of the social media did not cooperate with him in screening the offensive content. “In view of a slow response from the social media, we have now decided to regulate the content published by the social media,” he added.
Sibal even showed several offensive pictures of Sonia Gandhi and other leaders uploaded on a Facebook page to the reporters.
Replying to a volley of questions from reporters, Sibal said, “The online media cannot disown the offensive and provocative content published by them. They will have to take responsibility for that. That’s why we are pressing them to evolve a mechanism or some guidelines to screen offensive content.”
“We need to ensure that such blasphemous content should not be allowed to run on any media. So we have asked them to take action and regulate the online content,” he stated.
His remarks came after it was reported in the media that the government was not doing enough to prevent the publication of offensive and outrageous contents on the social media.
The government then conveyed to these companies that they would have to screen derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content on their websites targeting religious and political leaders like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Sensing the seriousness of the issue, Sibal met the representative of the social media a few months back.
However, the minister received no assurance from the officials on blanket screening of all content on their websites. The only commitment officials from these firms are reported to have made is that they would look into any specific complaint that was brought to their notice.
Meanwhile, social networking site Facebook today responded to Sibal’s move to check online content by saying, “We recognize the government’s interest in regulating the content.”
However, it said that policies are already in place for people to report any provocative or objectionable content, which, if found true, would be removed at the earliest.