Davos (Switzerland): A day after Google's top executive told NDTV it's not possible to censor content on the Web, Minister of State for Information and Technology Sachin Pilot has said there is no question of censoring content online and taking away free expression of people.
In an interview to NDTV's Shweta Rajpal Kohli from Davos in Switzerland, Mr Pilot says the online firms are over-reacting and that they have to be more responsible and abide by Indian laws and can't simply wash their hands off.
Here's the full transcript of that interview:
NDTV: Interesting debates here in Davos ranging from the future of capitalism to what's going to happen in Europe, to even web censorship; it's a pleasure to have with us in our studio Sachin Pilot.
I had a very interesting chat with the Chief Business Officer of Google, Nikesh Arora, yesterday, over the entire controversy with regard to banning of objectionable content, which is now subjudice. But the government's position has really been that we cannot allow very, very inflammatory content, content that actually incites communal tendencies. These companies, the technology giants, are turning around and telling the Government we cannot censor the web. Is their argument fair?
Sachin Pilot: First what we have to do is to stop words like banning, censorship, life without Facebook, life without Google, because that's clearly exaggerating the point. Let me put the things in the context that I believe people should look at the whole issue. When we say that the thing is objectionable, it is not me looking and deciding whether that photograph, blog and discussion in the chat room I don't find appropriate, but there may be some people, institutions, ethnic groups, religious minorities or whoever they may be, they believe that it is hurting their sentiments to put something that is blatantly objectionable. I think they must have right to seek a legal recourse and have their issues addressed. But what is happening is that people don't have the legal infrastructure to say that I don't like this. I think this also is giving them rights in the democracy to voice their concerns. The companies also, I think, are over-reacting to a point, because I think there is nothing wrong, if there is a certain law in our country, to abide by it.
NDTV: But the companies are saying they don't have the way to do it. How do we censor the World Wide Web?
Sachin Pilot: No one is asking them to do it.
NDTV: Then what is the controversy about?
Sachin Pilot: Everything that is uploaded on YouTube or everything that is uploaded has to be censored, but if something appears somewhere, that is, in very close definition of our new law, is flouting that law, and someone objects to it, then everyone has the right to object to it. I think everyone has the right to object to the thing that they don't agree with. You talk about the freedom of speech, but that doesn't mean, that does not mean that I will create content on the Web designed singularly to attack your sensitivities. We are a very large country of a billion people, so why do you want someone to attack all the faultlines in our societies and make them bigger and wider? I am not saying companies are to stop that material coming on the Web, but if someone objects to it, then they must have the legal recourse to go and approach the court.
NDTV: So what's the government demand to these 21 companies? All that you're saying is, if we or someone else informs you of objectionable content, then remove it. Is that correct?
Sachin Pilot: Let me go back one more step. There is no question of Government trying to censor anything. We are a free democratic country. In fact I believe it is the greatest values we have imbibed, in letting people say what they want. You want to criticise someone go ahead and do it, have a difference of opinion, chats, discuss, deliberate, do dharnas, pradarshans. And do you know, the Internet by the way, is like a local square, you can say anything you want, no one is objecting to it.
NDTV: Which is exactly what the people are upset about, and this what the technology companies are saying, that are you taking their freedom.
Sachin Pilot: I look at it from a different point of view, that you want to have a political debate, criticise the policies, the politicians, the issues of the day, take a completely divergent view, please do it. Use a social media, get your voices heard, but if some elements are trying to use it only to incite violence or create religious disharmony amongst the people, trying to get people to clash amongst each other, then someone must have the right to go and tell the companies that this what is happening on your website, please take it down. And if you can't take it down, then tell us why you can't take it down, but you can't wash your hands of it.
NDTV: But are the companies not cooperating, they are saying we can't help you? Is that the message that the government got from these companies, that sorry, too bad we cannot help you with this?
Sachin Pilot: I think this particular case that you referred to is subjudice. I don't want to go into the details of that company, what they said and did not say. But it's the principle of the thing, you see everyone has to be responsible. India today is the third largest user of Internet. 110 million people in India are online. Imagine the exponential growth in the next five years. So we want to create an environment that Internet is used for the benefits it comes along with. I am sure there'll be pitfalls and downsides to having a very large Internet community, but that's the part of the package. But we, as Government, are not at all asking the people to stop talking about people, censor their thoughts, filter what is being put up on the Internet, absolutely not. In fact as politicians it's a great mechanism to get feedback. If someone doesn't like what I am saying, if I can't see on the TV or read the paper, I must be able to log on the web and see what people are saying about me. But that does not mean that everybody has the right to hurt sentiments, and cause issues on sovereignty or about national interests.
NDTV: A lot of issues are there at stake. But Sachin, you are someone who understands technology, you are a young Minister, you are someone who uses technology on a very regular basis. The debate really here is the Government is asking the companies, is here is the objectionable content, remove it. But the companies are saying what they are being asked is, you decide what is objectionable. And they turn around and say we cannot decide; what is objectionable to you may not be objectionable to somebody else; so who are we to decide that this needs to be removed? Who are we to do that filtering mechanism? Who are we to carry out that process?
Sachin Pilot: I think we are getting confused about the issues. No one is asking the companies. It is impossible, it's physically, humanly impossible.
NDTV: Which is exactly what they are saying.
Sachin Pilot: No, but what we are saying is, that if something appears and some individual or group of people bring it to your notice, that this is hurting my image, or my character or my sensitivity, please respond. So, within 36 hours, you say either we don't agree with your views, we are still going to post it, or you take it out. If they don't do that, then the individual has a right to approach the Court under the CrPC, IPC, IT Act. Here is what I've been asking them to do, my personal prestige, my sensitivity or my character is being tarnished or damaged, and the company is not taking any steps to remove it. You know, so many people have come up to us, they have been hurt, or they have been put into a position of compromise. It's not about individuals, also it's about the large country of 1.2 billion people. Imagine so many ethnic backgrounds, religious communities and Internet should be used as a place where they come together. It's a great platform where you can break barriers of class, religion or divides in our society.
NDTV: So in that sense the other argument is it's the place for free expression. Why take the free expression away?
Sachin Pilot: Of course, no one is taking expression away. Your freedom of speech, liberal views, whatever you want to. But if anyone objects, then there must be a legal recourse. I think all of these companies understand that they have to abide by the law of the land. If they have to operate here there is a law that the Parliament has made. These laws were up on the websites for 3 months, asking for inputs from various stakeholders, but there were no inputs at that point. But now that the laws have been made, I think there has been a lot of media hype about it, to make it look like the government is coming up with a dagger to curb the freedom of people expressing themselves. In fact we have been encouraging it. Government is now online, it's on twitter. So it's wrong to say that Government is pushing back people from coming to the Internet and expressing their views, and discussing them.
NDTV: The government's strong position, allowing these companies to be prosecuted, was obviously because you didn't see cooperation coming from the technology companies. I know that the matter is subjudice. Have you actually put up requests with these companies, saying that x number of items, kindly take it off? Have you not met up with positive response from these companies? Is that what led the Government to take such a harsh position?
Sachin Pilot: Let me respond by saying the following. If all we had been saying and getting feedback from our stakeholders had been taken care of properly, perhaps these may not have gone in this direction. But I do believe it is the collective responsibility of the people who do use Internet, of the content providers, of the intermediaries and of the Government. We have to be responsible and careful about how we proceed and be able to take India into a knowledge society. We talk about e-Governance and about Internet adding value to people's lives, enriching people's lives, that can only happen if there is cohesion. So not by drawing swords, and looking at hates to maximise sensationalism, and look at how to make money.
NDTV: It can't be revenue generation at the cost of such objectionable content?
Sachin Pilot: I don't believe so, and especially on the issues of wrongful depiction of India's political boundaries. Now if Jammu and Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh don't appear correctly, at least in India what we believe is the correct map of India, we have to object to it.
NDTV: But again that's an issue where we have taken a stand and said, when there is a dispute we do not come into that dispute, we do not take positions, we do not take sides?
Sachin Pilot: At least, but then abide by what UN guidelines are. You see you can't take a different view depending on which country you operate. You can't have different rules of engagement with India and with other large countries.
NDTV: It's a tough battle that is again taking place between the government versus the technology companies.
Sachin Pilot: I would urge you not to make it look like a war. It's about getting our points across and coming to a meeting point. Ultimately we have to work under circumstances that have evolved over a period of time. And we want to encourage these companies. We must ensure that more and more people are online and not just online in English. I want more and more people who do not know English to come online. Who is going to do that? That's why we want these companies to diversify and reach out to larger parts of our country and society. They have a lot of work ahead. There is a large untapped market. Explore that potential, and I hope people don't take your word on censorship, banning, all that seriously. These are very exaggerated views.
NDTV: But Nikesh Arora of Google has been telling that all these are risking the Internet growth in the country. As a Minister how do you respond to that? You surely don't want that to happen?
Sachin Pilot: Those are very strong words. I haven't heard when he had said that. That's really taking things out of context. That's not the way I would look at it. This is an issue that the Court has taken cognisance of. Whether a company is a manufacturing company, or an entertainment company, or a social media company, there are rules and regulations that every country has. If you have to operate here, make money out of Indian consumers using the Internet, operate here, you can't say my freedom of expression under Article 1 in US will hold here. I think that's unacceptable.
NDTV: The court is saying that we can go the China way. That's something that has led to the impression that the Government wants to ban this website?
Sachin Pilot: There is no question of ban, anything like I said. But we also want these companies to act with a bit of responsibility, like I said, in terms of responding to these issues. We are not asking for every possible content, that is going up, to be censored on the Internet. No one expects that to happen. But when something is brought to your notice, but you feel that you do not want to respond because the Indian law is not what you want it to be, I think that attitude is wrong. We are engaging with these companies and I think we will find a workable solution in the time to come. But this sensationalisation of going this way, the future can't become this bright, because the companies cannot operate here, I think that's...
NDTV: ...it's the first time you are attending the World Economic Forum. As a government representative what's the mood here regarding, what's the perception regarding India here?
Sachin Pilot: The last 5 years have really indicated that the growth momentum and economic activity, manufacturing, food production, all of them have moved towards the East, and Asia has become the epicentre of a lot of things that are going on, and even when we are talking about saving the Euro, India is seen as a beacon of hope and expectation. We are a country of a billion people and we are not only going to pull ourselves, but also take a lot of people with us. So lot of expectations to fulfil. First it's the people of India, and to get that tangible benefit of the growth to the people. Also, as a member of the global community, there are a lot of expectations and I think the areas of telecommunication, IT...
NDTV: ...will be the main growth areas?
Sachin Pilot: ...and that's where job creation will take place, that's where investments will take place, and I am one of those people who is very optimistic. And India will be a country that will lead from the front and the time will come to prove that.
NDTV: Alright, clearly huge, huge expectations from India and India has very tall ambitions. At least that's one of the sessions that you will be addressing a little later in the day. Thanks so much for joining us here.
Sachin Pilot: Thank you.
Story first published:
January 28, 2012 01:55 IST