Letter from the Reader – On Publishing Slanderous Comments

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The dilemma of free speech on the internet.

[By Jess Sikand; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

In August, 2009, I made an unpopular comment on the topic of expats, Delhi and attitudes to poverty in an article published on The Delhi WallaWhy Scorn Delhi Expats. As the moderator of comments, the site’s blogger, Mayank Austen Soofi, duly published it.

I had taken care not to attack anyone personally, or viciously. However, Mr Soofi allowed his other readers to make personal attacks against me. While it were other people who made personal insults on my character, Mr Soofi appeared to have tactically approved them by choosing to publish such libelous statements on his blogsite.

I thought slander/libel was something the journalistic profession steered away from as they not only have legal consequences (at least here) but that they only detract from the issue that is at hand. As Mr Soofi’s blog is a journalistic piece and he himself is a journalist, I ask him this: by publishing these acidic comments against me is he agreeing with them and endorsing them?

Although the editorial process could be tricky because one does not want to stifle free speech Mr Soofi ought to consider the spirit of the comments and their result. In this instance, there was no intelligent debate just mud slinging (more specifically, s**it-slinging).

We all have our reputation to maintain. If my views were disagreeable, then I would happily read the counterpoint. However, I am very alarmed at the derogatory comments published about me. Anybody could trace them by entering my name in any search engine. My friends, family, colleagues, my children’s friends, acquaintances, business connections, former students and professors could easily come across these hideous and libellous statements.

I feel Mr Soofi should not have placed me in this situation. None of those commentators actually chose to answer to my points; instead they made nasty accusations. Were they really comments on the issue raised by the concerned piece? Or was it just a hate speech toward me for suggesting a different viewpoint? Where is the tolerance for other views without an online vigilante posse hanging me with their noose of words?

Ultimately, the blogger of this blogsite is the decision maker as to what is posted on his blog. And that includes the comments (especially if they are moderated comments).

I would like Mr Soofi to address this issue. This online publishing is not a child’s game; its consequences reach worldwide. As the gatekeeper of a popular blog I hope to hear his reply.

The Delhi Walla responds:
Dear Ms Sikand,
I am sorry if the comments against your comment have put you in distress. Your correspondence will hopefully stir a debate on this whole politics of accepting or rejecting comments in the blogworld. I will be more careful in moderating comments. (I’m not a journalist, but a reporter).
Best wishes,
Mayank Austen Soofi