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Mainstream media is not the enemy

  • Published at 06:06 pm September 20th, 2018

It seems that many of the problems of Section 57 of the ICT Act will simply recur under a new name

As the world becomes more and more digital, so does the scope for wrong-doing using digital platforms.

In the recent past, we have seen how social media posts can be used to spread false information to harmful ends, so there is little doubt that digital media needs to be used responsibility in this day and age.

Indeed, the new threats that have emerged call for new laws, and, hopefully, these new laws would not trample over the rights of ordinary citizens.

But does the Digital Security Act really get to the heart of the matter, or does it present a danger of solving the wrong problem?

This new law is so broadly written that it could put journalists in handcuffs for simply doing their job.

The government has assured the media that the law will not be misused or interpreted too broadly. Let us hope this is the case.

More fundamentally, we would hope the government remembers that mainstream media is not the enemy.

Indeed, mainstream media's interest in the preservation of standards for responsible journalism is no less than the government's.

Let us not forget that when rumours were rife on social media last month during the traffic protests, and the situation threatened to spiral out of control, it was the mainstream media who saved the day with their responsible reporting, playing an indispensable role in dispelling the rumours and helping maintain stability.

Only responsible journalism, with rigorous fact-checking standards, can put an end to unethical practices, or destroy the credibility of rumours on social media, but if the freedom of journalists is choked, people may have no recourse but to turn to unreliable sources for news, and that will only fuel the fire.

No one doubts that we need laws on the books to protect against offenses such as incendiary and untrue speech that could cause deterioration of law and order, but the question is whether the DSA has enough checks and balances to ensure that the law not be misused.

Sadly, it seems that many of the problems of Section 57 of the ICT Act will simply recur under a new name.

A free press is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and even if the DSA is not misused, it's mere existence will have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press, which is regrettable.