Freedom of expression, according to some…

Posted: April 11, 2013 in Facebook, journalism, Media, students
Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t know what it was that the young lady from a Mumbai college did to get herself expelled, but whatever it was, I think the punishment was a bit too harsh. Suspending her for being an administrator of a confessions page could have been the appropriate thing to do, if at all.

From what I’ve read in yesterday’s Hindustan Times, the student was expelled because she was the administrator of a Confessions page started by students of the college. The college authorities believed that neither the institution nor the staff should have been maligned on the page and took objection to it. They decided to teach her a lesson. Again, I am only going by newspaper reports, but I do think it was a bit harsh, and the reaction to it as overly dramatic, as the incident in Palghar some months ago when two girls were arrested for posting something on Facebook during Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral.

Just a couple of weeks back students of a media college, where I take classes, opened a Confessions page. I love reading what these youngsters have to say about life and a lot else and I have often commented as well. There have been times, when I’ve felt the urge to put my comments down in “their language” with the A, B and C in the right place! I’ve refrained from doing so, purely because I realise that what I say as their teacher could have its repurcussions.

Anyway, I went on this Confessions page and found some really nasty comments about people’s sexual orientations and these kids were named in these updates. I was appalled. Whether it was fact or fiction and whether X was a lesbian, Y a homosexual and Z a transgender was an extremely personal issue and no one had the right to flog it on a social networking site. Worse, there were some factually incorrect statements made by some students, which maligned some members of the faculty, again anonymously.

I registered my protest on the page and from there, others picked it up. Then a post written by an anguished student Sheikh Rehmatullah, questioned the need for such a page and the kind of scurrilous content it was propagating. Another faculty member posted her response to it and suddenly the shit hit the fan.

Rehmatullah asked for my comment and I responded. I agreed with most of what he said. My reply to a faculty member (since she berated me for being diplomatic!) was that students need to let off steam, so I didn’t have a problem with the page per se, as long as there was someone filtering it, which in this case, seemed unlikely. If there was, he or she was either nodding off on the job or was finding the deluge of updates too much to handle.

These are 17/18-year-olds, and they can hardly be expected to behave like 35-year-olds, but some of the updates were downright defamatory. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students voicing their opinion, some quite vehemently, against the page. And most blasted the rude, crude and extremely insulting anonymous updates. Then one smart kid decided to post an anonymous message from “The Director” and I remember saying “This is what I mean by self censorship” or some such thing. I believe the page was pulled off a few hours later.

Cloaked in the garb of anonymity, you cannot say anything you want and get away with it. And mind you, unlike the girl who was expelled from the college in Mumbai, these kids are media students, who should understand restraint and practice some form of self censorship.

Unfortunately, many of today’s media students (and I stress on ‘media’) believe freedom of expression means NO restrictions. I have no argument with students from any other colleges who wish to vent their spleen against college, professors, government, politician, friend or foe. But I do believe that such liberties are not applicable to media students. They need to understand that in the profession they are in, it is imperative they stop and think of the reactions their actions could provoke. on a larger canvas. If they still think ‘viva la revolution’ is the answer to all ills, they are in the wrong world.

In newspapers during editorial meetings, people raise objections to a point in a story and argue over it. Sometimes one argues that the report is half-baked forcing it to be put in cold storage. In journalism classes I have spoken of checks and double checks on a controversial story to ensure there are no loose ends, which could come back and bite one in the ass! We even consult lawyers on the newspaper’s payroll to confirm whether we can carry a report without inviting a lawsuit. We don’t publish just anything. Sometimes we may err on the side of caution, but then it is better to do that, than be forced to print an apology the next day. I’ve seen national newspapers carrying front page apologies for stories done, where they accept that they hadn’t got their facts right.

We love to talk about the American or the British media, but even they have some form of self censorship, and it is something my young friends in media schools need to learn. It’s not a ‘free’ world as everyone would have us believe. The sooner some media students understand that, the better their future…

  1. Kirti Patil says:

    Mohan, well written. I agree with all your thoughts.

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