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Don’t stifle free speech yet again

In the run up to assembly elections, Delhi police has barred the shooting of television debates in public spaces. The decision was taken after a violent clash between Bharatiya Janata Party and Aam Aadmi Party workers in south Delhi left 12 people injured. When district level police officials denied permission to various news channels for shooting public debates, representatives from the television media fraternity met the Delhi police chief BS Bassi.

In response to their request, Bassi cited the maintenance of law and order behind his decision to bar public debates. Senior police officials maintained that TV channels invite the candidates of various parties along with their supporters for such debates. However during such programmes, allegations and counter allegations, send supporters into a tizzy, leading to ugly confrontation. Such modes of police action, however, are akin to yet another assault on free speech. Is it speech that is problematic or is it the consequent violence?  Having been shown incapable of preventing any kind of violence whatsoever, be it against women or minorities, Delhi police has yet again resorted to using archaic, authoritarian and blunt instruments of control, ironically, to prevent debates during an election.

Irrespective of the quality of such television programmes, public debates are absolutely essential in areas deep within the throes of election campaigning. Leaving these debates within the confines of television studios will reduce public engagement with politics. It is the danger inherent in these sorts of verbal confrontations that reinvigorates public engagement with politics. AAP’s entry into the electoral fray had reinvigorated public engagement with politics. However, the intervention of the state may reverse the impact of such public engagement.
MPost

MPost

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