India is the world’s largest democracy and has a rock-solid media industry which is often termed the fourth pillar of its constitution. The steady growth of its numerous robust electronic media companies, coupled with the boom of the internet, has revolutionized circulation of information and opinions. Taking due note of the legal challenges brought about by changing media dynamics, the Law Commission of India floated a consultation paper soliciting views of stakeholders. The initial deadline for submitting views was extended to 15 August.
Deliberations are being undertaken on various aspects of media such as social media and section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, cross-media ownership, media and personal privacy, regulation of media, paid news, defamation, publications and contempt of court, opinion polls, regulation of government-owned media, trial by media and rights of the accused.
Section 66A was enacted to prevent the circulation of information which is grossly offensive, menacing and false via the internet. The section provides for imprisonment extendable up to three years for a violation. The most perplexing aspect of this section is that the words “grossly offensive”, “menacing” and “false” have not been defined under the act. This has led to bizarre interpretations of the section as a whole and it is often used as a tool to arbitrarily arrest innocent citizens expressing honest opinions on various social networking platforms.
Cases that highlight the manner in which the section is being misused include the arrest of two college students in Maharashtra and a businessman in Tamil Nadu for writing against certain influential individuals. It thus becomes important to define what constitutes grossly offensive, menacing and false to restrict the scope of varied interpretation of these terms.
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