Starting impolite conversations #FoECon 2022

The pandemic took away fundamental means to foster community engagement - it took away a sense of belonging that professionals achieve through personal interactions. For our community in Delhi, we in collaboration with NewsLaundry co-organized the first edition of FoE Con 2022 titled “Impolite” Conversations.

When journalists and lawyers talk

If we look at several Democracy and Press Freedom Rankings, India presents a shrinking civic space and funding for investigative and critical journalism. Such activity almost seems to be criminalized. It would not be out of place to say that regulations such as the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 or the use of Pegasus on journalists further justify the fall in online freedom. While studying these changes, we found that there almost seemed to be a natural nexus between journalism, the law and digitisation. Through FoE Con, we placed a senior lawyer with a distinguished journalist in each panel with a hope to bring expertise and insight on some of these trends. We received an overwhelming response and had to cap the registrations at 425 entries. As a part of our learnings from the first edition, we promise to organise future editions to allow more and more members of our community to participate in our events.

  • The first panel focussed on lessons from the emergency. Memories of the emergency are often invoked to draw parallels between the censorial environment that impacts reporting and broader strokes of free expression. What is often lost are the learnings from this period taking into account the core distinction in today’s media environment. The objective of the session was to further understand these parallels based on the experience of a working journalist and a senior lawyer who were actively working during this period. This panel, moderated by award winning journalist, Neha Dixit, consisted of Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh and Senior Journalist Kalpana Sharma. You can watch the recorded session below.
  • The second panel, in an interesting format, discussed court stories - with cases of criminal defamation, copyright infringement, lapses in criminal procedure, and use of draconian penal provisions as a means to curb personal liberty. The panel started with a video of Ipsa Shatakshi informing the audiences about the arrest of Rupesh Kumar (both were allegedly targeted with Pegasus) as reprisal for his reporting on adivasi rights in Jharkhand. This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by the CEO of Newslaundry, Abhinandan Sekhri. The panel consisted of Senior Advocate Rebecca John, Advocate Sonam Gupta from Bharucha and Partners, and Pratik Sinha, the Co-founder of the fact checking news portal Alt News. You can watch the recorded session below.
  • Criminal proceedings concerning the security of the State present a grave threat to the personal liberty of journalists, and journalism at large. Invocation of laws such as sedition, the Public Safety Act, the UAPA etc. against journalists has been on the rise which has induced fear and self-censorship amongst journalists. The third panel titled Negotiations with Security laws, comprising Advocate Vrinda Grover and journalist Hartosh Singh Bal, moderated by Vakasha Sachdev, made us question the term ‘national security’ and ‘security laws’. The terms are being loosely used in Courts and journalism to attack freedom of press and escape state accountability, so much so that the Supreme Court in Manoharlal Sharma v. Union of India (the Pegasus matters) held that the State cannot get a “free pass every time the spectre of “national security” is raised.” You can watch the recorded session below.

FoE Con 2023

Just as Privacy Supreme is held every year to commemorate the judgment of the Supreme Court declaring the right to privacy as a fundamental right in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, FoE Con will be held everywhere to celebrate the judgment of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, where the Supreme Court upheld the primacy of the freedom of speech and expression.

Next year, we want to come back even bigger. Work done by IFF relates to complex issues of technology policy and law, and we try to break down and unravel these concepts creatively. Such creativity can be seen in the graphics that accompanies every post that we publish, in the videos we release on our Youtube channel, and the comics and other media that we share with our community. This practice is also shared by Newslaundry that uses media critique, reportage, podcasts, documentaries, comics and animation to bring out stories concerning the latest current affairs in innovative and engaging formats. Going forward, we want to exhibit artwork representing the intersection of digital journalism and law at FoE Con 2023.

Lastly, FoE Con 2022 would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of Bharucha & Partners and Saket Shukla. We are also grateful for the enthusiasm and participation of many IFF members and donors who showed up! Staffers at IFF felt supported by each and every one of you! Thank you so much! We hope to see you again in March next year for FoE Con 2023.

If you want to support FoE Con 2023 or have any ideas for what we should cover, tweet to us @internetfreedom with the hashtag #BeImpolite, or write to us at [email protected].