Editorial 1 : Reviewing Freedom

Context: An ongoing case before the Kerala High Court on restricting negative reviews of films in the first few days of their release constitutes an interesting as well as challenging free speech issue.


  • The court has taken on the task of distinguishing genuine film criticism from attempts to destroy a movie’s prospects of success through malicious comments, or by threatening to post negative reviews with a view to extorting money.
  • It appears that the court is aware of the implications of any move to restrict or curb disparaging reviews for free speech and freedom of expression, but it remains to be seen how it will be able to balance the commercial interests of film-makers and the freedom of reviewers.

Free speech

  • Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But around the world, there are governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it.
  • They impose high taxes on newsprint, making newspapers so expensive that people can’t afford to buy them. Independent radio and TV stations are forced off the air if they criticize Government policy. The censors are also active in cyberspace, restricting the use of the Internet and new media.
Article 19 (1) 0f the Indian ConstitutionArticle 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that, all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.The philosophy behind this Article lies in the Preamble of the Constitution, where a solemn resolve is made to secure to all its citizen, liberty of thought and expression.The exercise of this right is, however, subject to reasonable restrictions for certain purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
Key features of the rightThis right is available only to a citizen of India and not to foreign nationals.The freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium, e.g. by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie etc.This right is, however, not absolute and it allows Government to frame laws to impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality and contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.

Recent issue

  • Film director Mubeen Rauf had approached the court for a direction to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the State Information Technology Department, among others, to ensure that social media influencers and film reviewing vloggers do not publish any reviews of his film Aromalinte Adyathe Pranayam in social media for at least seven days from the date of its release.
  • Remarks and observations made so far in interlocutory orders suggest that the court’s focus is mainly on those who either post anonymously or vloggers with unknown credentials who trash films within hours of their release with apparently malicious intent, and do not threaten the freedom of film reviewers with acknowledged expertise and experience.

Court’s order

  • In an order on October 25, Justice Devan Ramachandran directed that “a close watch on the online platforms shall be maintained, to ensure that anonymous mala fide content is not allowed to circulate; and necessary action under the provisions of the “IT Act” [Information Technology Act] shall be taken and implemented scrupulously without delay”. Interestingly, the order also notes that apparently due to the very pendency of these proceedings, the film made by the petitioner had a good run at the box office as it was spared “review bombing”, the term that has gained currency for the phenomenon of deliberate spoiling of a film’s prospects.


  • The court’s observation in its latest order that the freedom of those involved in making a film should not be sacrificed at the altar of the “unbridled freedom of expression” of those acting under the impression that they are not governed by any parameters or regulations should not lead to a verdict either curbing the freedom to critically analyze a film or an attempt to restrict the art of criticism. After all, making and reviewing a film are both two aspects of the same right to free speech.

Editorial 2 : Taiwan, a Malacca blockade and India’s options

Context: There are limitations to what India can do in the event of a U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan.


  • With China frequently intimidating Taiwan over the past year through deployment of its air force and navy in the surrounding areas, there is the oft-posed question whether India would take action in the Strait of Malacca or the Andaman Sea in the event of a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan.
  • Any speculative action in the Strait of Malacca or the Andaman Sea would involve either a naval blockade against commercial shipping or China’s key trade and energy sea lines of communication or military action against Chinese naval vessels.
Strait of MalaccaThe Strait of Malacca Connects the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean) and the South China Sea (Pacific Ocean).It runs between the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the west and peninsular (West) Malaysia and extreme southern Thailand to the east.

Constraints in regard to India’s options in the Strait of Malacca

  • First, “distant blockades” away from a belligerent nation’s geography can be challenged under international law.
  • Second, the trade that passes through the Strait of Malacca is not just China’s economic and energy lifeline. An overwhelming volume of the trade of Japan, South Korea and even India itself passes through the same Strait.
  • Third, the channel of the Strait of Malacca is long, nearly 500 miles, and involves the sovereignty of other states such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore who would all be affected adversely by a naval blockade. The affected countries are unlikely to support a naval blockade.
  • Fourth, commercial shipping is extremely complex to identify in terms of the sovereignty of the vessel, flag, registration, insurance and ownership of cargo. And these are often multinational in nature and can also be changed as convenient through transshipment at any port in Southeast Asia.
  • Fifth, apart from the fact that it is difficult to interdict China’s trade and energy supplies, the additional reality is that even if the Strait of Malacca were “choked”, shipping can take a detour either through the Sunda or the Lombok Straits to reach China.
  • Sixth, China also has a huge onshore and floating Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) which can help it tide over disruptions, especially with growing overland energy supplies from Russia and Central Asia.

Consequences of Naval blockade

  • naval blockade or unilateral action against an adversary’s naval vessels would tantamount to a declaration of war; at the very minimum, it could lead to a conflict, not necessarily limited to the maritime sphere.
  • Regional countries which are adversely affected by disruption in the Strait of Malacca, including friendly countries, are unlikely to endorse any unilateral action. China would use its permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and regional influence to good effect to thwart any such effort.

Past Learnings

  • It is also relevant to note that in both the First and the Second World wars, a naval blockade and sanctions led to conflagrations.
  • During the First World War, the British blockade of Germany which lasted from 1914-19 saw Germany retaliating against British shipping on the high seas with its submarines (U-boats) with deadly effect.
  • Subsequent developments, including the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and the sinking of U.S. merchant vessels by German U-boats eventually drew the U.S. into the First World War.
  • During the Second World War, the U.S. had embargoed Japan’s energy supplies which ran through the maritime commons, which probably played a key role in Japan’s decision to launch the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941.

Different conflict scenarios

  • The larger question in the context of the Strait of Malacca that remains to be answered is whether any of India’s strategic partners, especially the U.S., would support any interdiction of Chinese vessels in a bilateral conflict between India and China, unless the U.S. itself were involved in a kinetic conflict with China. Even in such a scenario, there is perhaps no guarantee of support by other stakeholders in the region, especially the South-East Asian nations.

What India needs to do?

  • To the extent that a full-blown U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan sends ripples across the Indian Ocean, India’s primary role may be limited to a proactive defence of its territorial interests and the security of its sea lines of communication and those of its strategic partners in the eastern and western India Ocean. In any such eventuality, India’s primary focus would remain on its continental borders with China.


  • India has traditionally faced China’s military threats on its borders essentially on its own. The new U.S.-India partnership in the economic, high-tech and military areas is expected to strengthen in the years ahead.
  • The U.S. increasingly regards India as regional ballast for stability in the region. A robust India with a strong economy, nuclear deterrence capability and a credible military can contribute to multi-polarity in the Indo-Pacific.