Sat, 17 Apr 2021

New Delhi [India], April 3 (ANI): A webinar titled "Dissent, Defamation, and Democracy: Balancing Rights and Duties" was organised by Policy Matrix on Friday to encourage discussion and learning on the issue.

The panel included Rajya Sabha MP Dr Amar Patnaik, Journalist and filmmaker Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, BJP leader and NADA India National VC Charu Pragya, Samajwadi Party (SP) spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari.

Patnaik asserted that dissent is the backbone of democracy and the new forms of dissent, such as those through print or electronic media have brought in different kinds of challenges.

He said, currently, the defamation law, both criminal and civil, is largely un-codified and there is an urgent need for the law to be codified so as to ensure safeguards such as requiring plaintiffs to demonstrate actual and serious harm.

"Currently, there is no provision for such and the judiciary will only look at one's intent. The burden of proof must rest on the plaintiff. There has to be reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech but the responsibility of safeguarding an individual's privacy, data, and rights cannot be left in the hands of the executive who are often accused of abusing their power. The responsibility must be with the judiciary," the Rajya Sabha MP said, according to a release by Policy Matrix,Patnaik suggested that all redressal mechanisms must be overseen by a quasi-judicial mechanism.

Speaking at the webinar, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, said dissent is absolutely necessary for a democracy, calling oneself a democracy is to tell the world that you allow and encourage dissent.

"If one is intolerant towards dissent then one cannot be stated to be residing in a democracy but rather in an authoritative state," he added.

Charu Pragya highlighted that there is a fine line between free speech and slander and that a fine line is encroached on frequently.

"Sometimes that fine line is so minute that even the courts are unable to distinguish between them. In a democracy, the core is one's campaign speech and it is where slander starts. People disguise their defamation in many ways, it can be coated as an opinion and not as a fact, it can be substantially true so that again no action can be taken against you," she said.

She added that defamation and freedom of speech are basically two sides of the same coin and it can be hard to distinguish between the two.

"Defamation should definitely remain a criminal offence, especially in a country like India," the BJP leader suggested.

"The current Indian regime has not been authoritative whatsoever. At present the level of dissent in India has actually increased, people are able to share their thoughts on social media and print articles freely. India's democracy is thriving and dissent is extremely visible in India," she said.

Ghanshyam Tiwari stated that the most important thing in respect to dissent, democracy, and the role of the Constitution is the spirit of our democracy and the spirit of those who hold power.

"People such as these do not tolerate dissent in any form. In the last year, there have been more Sundays than sittings in the Parliament. India is the only country that communalised the coronavirus," he said.

Abhishek Ranjan, founder of Policy Matrix stressed the need to discuss the issue at hand, given the rising culture of intolerance that is seeping into our society. (ANI)

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