RIGHTS CODIFIED FOR CYBER CRIMES ADMINISTERING MEDIA: A NEED FOR PROSPECTIVE ACTION

By Anshit Minocha, Law Student, School of Law, UPES

Introduction

Online Harassment’s purview has been widely discussed under the Information Technology Act, 2000. [1] Online Harassment can be described as a hostile statement that intends to corrupt and demean one’s reputation. Online Harassment could be a form of malicious act, or even a negligent act. It occurs in distinct assortments such as verbal, sexual, emotional, and social abuse. It may occur at a particular person belonging to a specific group of professions or maybe aimed at a specific group of classes.

The emergence of several platforms of social networking such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many others came up with the need for a statute answerable to the malignant activities being performed throughout the World Wide Web. However, the accession of online harassment and defamation have still not been able to wholeheartedly evaporate from the Internet but the Information Technology Act, 2000 aims at several schemes to curb the amount of cyber-crimes.

The act of defaming a person with a malicious intent, and within turn an objective of spreading hate messages to any individual, is itself a criminalized offense within the purview of Information Technology Act, 2000 and as well as the Indian Penal Code, 1860.[2] According to Advanced Research in Digital Forensics and Cyber Security (ARDC),[3] several forms of hatred filled messages also include E-mails sent with a malevolent intent of disgracing one’s personality on the World Wide Web. However, Cyber Crime and Cyber Harassments stands to be a major source of crime operating online. The state is pledged towards the betterment of its subjects, and the degree of measures taken by the respective centre to ensure cyber-crime is curbed, is insignificant.

Statistical Increment in the Numbers of Online Harassment

A survey reveals that cyber harassment and online harassment is more common amongst individuals engaged in Journalism and similar activities. The following data acknowledges the amount of cyber harassment faced by Journalists:

  • At least 7 out of every 10 individuals face online harassment, amongst which over 40% of women have faced harassment related to sexual abuse.
  • The frequent abuse and insults which were reported by over 60% of victims were that of sexual abuse and harassment.
  • The commonplace also existed amongst spreading fabricated and innuendo statements about over 50% of individuals.
  • Over 40% of abuse is related to that of trolling.
  • Amongst these attacks, over 50% of the trolling was targeted from a gang.
  • India recorded the most amount of cyber-trolling activities operating with over 40% of victims experiencing stalking and harassment.
  • As per the survey, the major target of cyberbullying and harassment were women and the person from whom the attack originated was a stranger to the women.
  • The survey has revealed that individuals who are more socially active are relatively much more prone to falling in the traps of Cyber Harassment.
  • The survey also demonstrated that where an individual faces any sort of disability, he/she is further extra decumbent in falling in the traps of Cyber Harassment.
  • The state receiving the most amount of cyber threats was Mumbai, followed by Delhi and Hyderabad.[4]

The following increment in the numbers of Cyber Bullying and Cyber Crime demonstrate how the respective statutes liable for preserving and managing justice throughout the country, have exhibited and determined “Justice” to be merely an abstract connotation. It is believed that applicable measures need to be taken by the centre and respective state legislative bodies to ensure and provide a deterrence in case of any act of Cyber Bullying or Cyber Crime.

Legal Aspect

In contemporary times, the need for a statute dominant in the media field is at the utmost requirement. But with the growing needs of the state, Maharashtra emerges as the only accepted and identified state in India with a law administering the activities of individuals related to that of Media and Journalism. This statute is commonly called as the Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017[5] but declines to govern with the administration of harassment occurring on the World Wide Web. Where a special law does not exist within the acumen of all the central legislative acts, the general law comes into existence.[6]

Defaming or degrading a journalist’s reputation on the internet would amount to an act punishable under the Indian Penal Code 1860.[7] Wherein any defamatory or derogatory statement is said by any individual which is likely to cheapen the reputation of a reputed individual, the act of the former would amount to the crime of defamation. In the case of Gorantla Vekateshwarlu v. B Demudu, [8] the heinous crime of defamation was committed with that of Managing Director of the Co-operative society, the accused alleged the victim of maintaining contraband and adulterous relations with an individual other than his wife on the World Wide Web. A piece of complaint was mailed to the respective bank where the accused work but the allegations were contradicted. As a matter of last resort, the victim approached the Hon’ble Court claiming remedy and the court treated the former statements of the accused as defamatory.

In the case of Subramaniam Swami v. Union of India, [9] a petition governing the decriminalization of section 499 was herein filed. The reasons stated were that of Freedom of Speech and Expression. However, the court resorted to using Beneficial Construction in settling the dispute between both the provisions, and it was observed that defamation was not violative of Freedom of Speech and Expression because such right is not absolute.

Another right provided is that of the Sexual Harassment under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.[10] The vested right includes the harassment occurring on online platforms. In the case of Ajahar Ali v. State of West Bengal, [11]it was herein held that the crime penalized under Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code is an atrocious crime and therefore, no probation can be granted in case of Probation of Offenders Act 1958.[12]

The Freedom of Press is a recognized right under the respectable Constitution of India.[13] Any sort of online agonizing with an individual involved in the media sector or journalism is a violation of the similar dressed right. It was herein held in Sakal Papers v. Union of India, [14]that this particular right is not absolute. However, online harassment is against the principle of reasonable restrictions defined by the Indian Constitution.[15] And thus, stands to be inoperative. Media is recognized as the fourth pillar of a democratic nation; therefore, it is the duty of its subjects to respect and adhere to the same.[16]

The “Right to Privacy” is a vested right under the Constitution of India.[17] With the absence of a special legislation, this particular right is available to the individuals involved in the Media & Journalism Sector. Physical Privacy was identified as a segregate one from that of the Mental Privacy, and it was herein held in the case of Selvi & Ors. v. State of Karnataka & Ors, [18]that a writ petition can be filed wherein even the mental privacy of a person is breached. Therefore, the distinction between Physical and Mental Privacy was made clear.

Conclusion

With a plethora of rights guaranteed under the Indian Penal Code, and as well as the Indian Constitution, it is decisive that the appropriate individuals take due notice of the same. However, special legislation administering the special needs of individuals involved in Media and Journalism does not exist. And thus, a need for the same is greatly reiterated. Like Maharashtra, the rate of cyber harassment persecuted by journalists in other states is on the rise and therefore should be recognized by respective authorities.

Awareness, which lacks an overabundance of attention, needs to be created and emphasized on the administration and remedy claiming procedure which is a pre-requisite when any cause of operation arises. Education is another aspect which shall be greatly focused upon by the centre because it is righteously said that “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

The amount of crimes operating on the World Wide Web can cause a blunder for the Information Technology sector, and the need for recognizing the right of the subjects of the state should be expeditiously evolved.


[1] The Information Technology Act 2000 § 67.

[2] The Indian Penal Code 1860 § 500.

[3] Online Harassment And Cyber Crimes Against Women- An Insidious Menace, The Centre for Advanced Research in Digital Forensics and Cyber Security (Jan. 24, 2019), https://www.ardcindia.org/online-harassment-and-cyber-crimes-against-women/

[4] Yuthika Bhargava, 8 out of 10 Indians have face faced online harassment, The Hindu (Oct 05, 2017, 12:26 AM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/8-out-of-10-indians-have-faced-online-harassment/article19798215.ece

[5] The Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act 2017 § 1.

[6] Vijay Singh & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors, AIR 2005 SC 1191.

[7] Supra note 2.

[8] AIR 2003 AP 251.

[9] (2015) W.P (Crl.) No. 184/2015

[10] The Indian Penal Code 1860 § 354A.

[11] (2013) SLP (Criminal.) No. 2817/2013

[12] The Probation of Offenders Act 1958 § 4.

[13] Indian Const. Art.19

[14] AIR 1962 SC 305.

[15] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597.

[16] Shereen Abdin, Media as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy, Lawyered (Aug 05, 2019), https://lawyered.in/legal-disrupt/articles/media-fourth-pillar-democracy/.

[17] Indian Const. Art. 21.

[18] (2007) W.P (Criminal.) No. 6711/2007.

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