With 3 May 2017 being declared as World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the American Center, New Delhi celebrated the month of May to raise awareness about freedom of speech. On the last day of the month, an event was conducted jointly by DU Beat and the American Center – Debate on Free Speech and Social Media – How much is too much? The event brought together debaters from the University of Delhi and the National Law University to speak in support of and against absolute freedom of speech on social media. The debate took place at the American Center, with an interactive audience and listeners who even stood at the back, surpassing seating capacity.
The debate was moderated and judged by Karnika Kohli, Social Media Editor of The Wire, Craig L. Dicker, Cultural Affairs Officer at the Embassy of the United States of America, and Richard E. Pinkham, Director of Programs, North India Office at the Embassy of the United States of America.
The speakers covered a wide range of ideas and topics to support their stance, from allusions to Reliance JIO to details of legal cases. They were asked challenging questions by Ms. Kohli in response to their statements. Additionally, the engaged audience members also gave their inputs and asked the debaters to flesh out their arguments. The passionate speeches left the audience, as well as the judges, in a dilemma with regard to which side to support. As Mr. Dicker stated, he felt “like a ping pong ball” which bounced from side to side with each speech.
At the end of all the speeches, the judges deliberated to announce Abhinav Hansa Raman and Bhishm Khanna of the National Law University as the winners, who argued for and against the motion respectively. The conclusion of the event was followed by a high tea. The entire debate was live-streamed on Facebook and garnered thousands of views.
“It was immensely gratifying to welcome such intelligent students to the American Center so they might contest the appropriate limits of free expression in the realm of social media. I will not be surprised if sometime before long our participants are ?debating the same issue as part of a policy-making exercise. For now, our audience was very fortunate to be able to hear such bright minds argue both sides of this most topical issue. Our thanks to partner DU Beat for organising this excellent session.”
– Richard E. Pinkham
As DU Beat is a platform that has fiercely supported freedom of expression for a decade, it was a privilege to be able to conduct this debate, especially in the current political environment. With mainstream Indian thought becoming increasingly homogenised and peripheral voices being silenced, the debate offered a broader look into the idea of freedom of speech and expression as a whole. A similar scenario is visible in the US, where occurrences of hate speech have become more numerous since the Trump administration came into power. Therefore, this debate could not have been held at a more apt time about such a pertinent subject. We are certain that the event offered food for thought to everyone present and forced them to re-evaluate their presence on social media.
Feature Image Credits: Alex Arthur for DU Beat