New Delhi: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday that the controversial amendment to the Kerala Police Act will not be used against freedom of speech or impartial journalism, describing such fears as unfounded.
In a statement, Vijayan defended the ordinance, signed by Governor Arif Muhammad Saturday, which introduces a jail term of up to five years and fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both, for those who use any media platform to produce, propagate or publish information that could threaten, insult or harm an individual. Brought in with the stated purpose of tackling cyber-bullying, the law has been criticised as an attempt to muzzle the press.
Vijayan said the state government had been repeatedly receiving complaints against the misuse of social media, even from prominent individuals.
“They (the complaints) have brought to the notice of the government instances where inhuman and vile cyber attacks were carried out by some in the guise of journalism and how it even harmed the family lives of many. It has often turned into targeted attacks using untruths and even sleazy content. Many families are bearing the consequences of such attacks,” Vijayan said.
He added: “The use of personal likes or dislikes, political or non-political interests and so on to unsettle the peaceful atmosphere of families so as to settle scores arising out of revenge cannot be allowed. In several instances such cyber attacks have resulted in heart wrenching tragedies.”
Also read: Harsh Kerala law brings 5yr jail for content ‘that could insult’ people, media under lens too
‘Govt is duty-bound to protect individual and press freedom’
In the statement, the Kerala Chief Minister said individual freedom cannot be violated in the name of freedom of speech and vice versa. “The government is duty-bound to protect both,” he added.
Vijayan also sought to note that online media has “scant regard” for individual freedom.
“A person’s respect and dignity are essential in a modern society. It has constitutional validation as well. The government has the responsibility to ensure it. In general, traditional media functions within these constitutional limits. However, certain online media have scant regard for such constitutional provisions and behave as if anything goes, creating an atmosphere of anarchy,” he said.
However, the CM reiterated that the amendment will not impinge on anyone’s freedom. He noted that the move was taken in the context of rising attacks on women and transgenders.
“Only those who think that it is their freedom to wreck (sic) havoc in others lives, can see this as an affront on their freedom. And that is not something that a modern society would allow anywhere in the world,” he said.
“Personal defamation and attack on dignity have even resulted in suicides and it has been brought to the attention of the government by those in responsible positions. In such circumstances, the government cannot simply ignore it,” he added.
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Journalists criticise move
The amendment to the Police Act has been criticised by journalists as an attempt to muzzle the media.
“The government has been planning to take control of the media in the disguise of controlling cyber-bullying. However, the amendment doesn’t specifically mention cyber bullying but ‘mass media’. This means, all media fall under this purview,” K.P. Reji, Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) president, had told ThePrint earlier.
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