• Shubham

These days we observe that a lot of social media ‘celebs’ voicing their opinions and commenting on public affairs. These social media ‘celebs’ include actors, sportsmen, influencers, and YouTubers. Are they empowered to do so, if not, then what are the repercussion of their opinions or comments?
 
 
Recently, M. Maridoss, a popular Youtuber tweeted that the tragic demise of Gen. Bipin Rawat and other army personnel on 08.12.2021 was greeted with glee by those belonging to 'Dravidar Kazhagam' and 'Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam'. Maridoss in his tweet raised a question as to whether Tamil Nadu, under the DMK rule, was becoming another Kashmir. He expressed his apprehension that if the environment is conducive to breeding such anti-national groups, then there is a possibility of any conspiracy of humongous proportions being hatched. He demanded that the secessionist forces should be suppressed.
 
 
A District Coordinator of the IT Wing of DMK came across the tweet and filed a FIR against Maridoss for alleged offenses under Sections 124(A), 153(A), 504, 505(1) (b) & 505(2) of Indian Penal CodeMaridoss thereafter approached the Madras High Court requesting that the FIR should be quashed as his tweet was “an agonized response of a true nationalist”. He stated that he could not bear to see celebrations and overt expressions of joy from some parts in Tamil Nadu following the tragic event of December 8th. He also stated that he had taken down his tweet within a couple of hours and had not instigated any act of violence. He claimed that he is entitled to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. He stated that he has been falsely implicated because he is an acerbic critic of the ruling party of Tamil Nadu.
 
 
DMK’s District Coordinator claimed that Maridoss’s offensive tweet clearly attracts the offenses in question. Hence he cannot claim protection under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. He argued that the right to freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and that it is very much subject to reasonable restrictions set out under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. In the present case, Maridoss had crossed the legal boundaries, his offending tweet caused disaffection and hatred towards a democratically and duly elected popular government. He further claimed that the comparison with Kashmir was not only unwarranted but also positively dangerous. He argued that Maridoss has made a conscious effort to instigate his followers to react violently so that a duly elected government can be toppled by alleging that the State government is supporting the separatists.
 
 
After hearing both the parties, Hon’ble Justice Swaminathan of the Madras High Court held, “A ‘YouTuber’ or any social media personality regularly commenting on public affairs would also be entitled to the very same rights which are accorded to journalists and the media under Article 19(1)(a) — Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression—of the Constitution.” Justice Swaminathan further held that Maridoss’s post cannot be characterized as seditious. He said, “The petitioner’s tweet was never intended to subvert the government. M. Maridoss v. State represented by The Inspector of Police, CCD-III Police Station, Madurai City. (Crime No.21/2021) & Anr. Crl.O.P (MD)No.19872 of 2021 Dated 14-12-2021. He had only drawn the attention of the State government to certain nefarious tendencies brewing in the State. He has merely vented out his anxiety.”
 
 
Resultantly, the Court concluded that the registration of the FIR was illegal and no charge was made out against Maridoss and hence quashed the FIR. He referred to how the Turkish novelist and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk differentiates between a naive and sentimental novelist. "The naive write spontaneously almost without thinking, not bothering to consider the intellectual and ethical consequences of their words and paying no attention to what others might say. The sentimental writing is a product of deep reflection," the Judge explained. He held that Maridoss appears to have made a "naive tweet" in Pamuk’s sense: "Probably realizing it, he took it down within a few hours.", he added.

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