â€œDr Venugopal gathered faculty, students and outsiders in the AIIMS auditorium and spoke openly, criticising the Government for allegedly interfering in the affairs of AIIMS. It led to considerable tension in the institute. It has brought indiscipline and a bad name to the institute. In view of Dr Venugopalâ€™s conduct, it is proposed that his continuance will vitiate the discipline in AIIMS further. It is, therefore, proposed for the institute body to consider that it would be in public interest to terminate the term of Dr Venugopal as Director of AIIMS with immediate effect and give him three month salary and allowance in lieu of the notice period as per Regulation 31.â€
This above is the official press statement of the government justifying the firing of Dr. Venugopal from AIIMS. All I have to say is : could they not have gotten someone to better spin this, so that we could at least keep on pretending that we live in a democratic society?
When it announces that it is punishing someone for “speaking openly” and for “criticizing the government” and that dissent is “an act of indiscipline“, the government, in a way that cannot be any clearer, is poking us in the eye with a fact that we like to pretend not to realize.
And that fact is that we are fast becoming like China with respect to the protection of individual rights and freedom of speech.
Take as an example the Broadcast Services Regulation Bill, 2006— a proposed umbrella Bill that brings cable operators, newspapers and television channels under one legislation. It is based on the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act which was created to regulate only cable operators——
Section 19: Where â€œany authorised officerâ€ thinks it necessary or expedient so to do in public interest, he may, by order, prohibit any cable operator from transmitting or re-transmitting â€œany programme or channel if, it is not in conformity with the prescribed programme code referred to in section 5 and advertisement code referred to in section 6 or if it isâ€ likely to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, linguistic or regional groups or castes or communities or which is likely to disturb the public tranquillity.
Yeah right….just read “public interest” as “interest of those put in power by the public”.
Sounds draconian? Of course but what the hell—whatever the commissar wants.
However the deleterious effects of this provision was limited by the fact that it applied to “cable operators” and not to organs of the press—newspapers and television channels. With sting operations and suchlike throwing egg on the face of many a politician, the realization has dawned on the ones-in-power that for the muzzle to be effective, it needs to be applied not at the level of the people in charge of the physical medium (i.e. the cable operators) but at the level of the content-providers since newspapers and television channels can transmit harmful (to the government) information through media like the Net and the printed word (which are excluded from the aegis of Cable TV Networks Regulation Act).
Ergo, the new Broadcast Services Regulation Bill —a bill that would make any totalitarian regime proud–has been drafted to bring the free press and broadcast medium under government control.
Sections 23 and 24 empower any official of the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority (BRA) to prohibit the transmission or printing of anything he/she deems “not appropriate”.
[Okay it is the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) and not BRA but considering how it intends to support /hold up the government’s often-sagging “image” …you get the point]
In addition, the government may ask the BRAI people to suspend or cancel the license of the media outlet, based on its judgement.
“TV channels must not use material relating to a person’s personal or private affairs or which invades an individual’s privacy unless there is an identifiable public interest reason for the material to be broadcast.â€
And who decides “public interest?” A babu in a safari suit on a direct line to “saar-ji” in a white topi.
Now here’s the clincher—and it’s just too fantastic for me to believe (and I find most Mithun movies believable). Especially since TOI, which does not have a great record of getting things right, says so:
The imposition of penalty cannot be challenged in court except if the authorised officer complains in writing. Section 18 of the Cable Act says, “No court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under this Act except upon a complaint in writing made by any authorised officer.”
This clause too appears to have been lifted and added to the Broadcast Bill under section 32, which says, “No civil court shall have the jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter.”
In other words, unless TOI is wrong or I am misinterpreting something, the government is not answerable to a court of law with respect to the application of this Bill.
Something similar is said here, but the clause number is different. (Again, I still cannot bring myself to believe this).
Apart from empowering government officials of the ranks of district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or police commissioner to barge into newsrooms are (sic) seize equipment, Section 37 makes it clear that the officialsâ€™ action cannot be challenged even in court. â€œNo civil court shall have the jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter which the Authority or the Licensing Authority is empowered by or under this Act to determine,â€ the draft Bill says.
In short—total absolute power.
Somewhere in a cold grave, Stalin smiles.