Here are the facts, very briefly. A magazine called JAM, did a story on a management institute called IIPM. The story said that IIPM makes tall claims. Many Indian newspapers carry full page IIPM ads. A blogger, Gaurav Sabnis, blogged about that and basically called IIPM claims fraudulent. IIPM served a legal notice threatening to sue Gaurav for a huge sum of money. They also contacted IBM, from whom they buy laptops for their students, to convey to them that they may stop that business relationship. Why? Gaurav works for IBM. So Gaurav resigned from IBM. The word got around and everyone and his brother is now blogging about the story–a rich corporation threatened a blogger and somehow managed to coerce him into quitting his job.
Everything you ever want to know about this affair and more is at Desipundit’s IIPM Blog Wars Redux.
My take on the whole affair boils down to, “if the cap fits …”
Are the allegations (whatever they are) against IIPM true or not? If they are, then anyone bringing it out into the open is clearly a threat to IIPM’s carefully constructed value of their degree. If they are not, then unless the allegations are made by some huge media giant such as the NYTimes or the Washington Post or Hindustan Times, no one would bother to believe it and no harm will be done. And if the NYT or HT were to publish lies about IIPM, then they have sufficiently deep pockets that suing them for defamation would be worth it.
So by IIPM going after a blogger, it has done two things. One, it has admitted that there is a good chance that the cap may fit. Two, it has guaranteed that a lot more people would know about the existence of the cap and the question of whether it fits and so in a sense would be trying on the cap in public any day now. I am not a betting man but if I were, I would bet that the cap will fit.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed to some extent in India, I guess. And I further suppose that there are laws against defamatory speech. The courts have to decide if the exercise of free speech in a particular instance amounts to defamation. If the allegations are true, I don’t see how the expression of the allegations is illegal.
It is a marketplace out there. Ideas and information get traded. We get a bit more informed and we can then exercise better judgement about which product is the genuine article and which are cheap imitations. Those who peddle the real stuff have nothing to lose and everything to gain whenever more information is available in the marketplace.
So all in all, I am sure that no harm will come out of this. I am sure that Gaurav will find a good job, lots of bloggers will find out where the lines separating free speech and libel are, the general public–and especially the students who wish to take courses at IIPM–will find out how good an institution IIPM is, and lots of people will figure out the value of public action.
Post script: Here is a test. The main stream media carries of lot of ads for IIPM. They dare not carry the story of IIPM threatening a blogger for fear of losing their customer only if the bloggers are on the right. But if the bloggers are at fault, the main stream media will carry the story as soon as possible because it will not hurt their business interests. So I would be interested in seeing how soon papers that carry IIPM ads pick up this story.
Post-script: Dear IIPM visitor. Please understand that this is not personal against you. It is IIPM and its greedy promoters who are to blame. It is too bad that you have paid money to get into the system, but in the end, someone has to lose. In this case it is you. But in the overall scheme of things, those who would have otherwise got cheated are now not going to make the same mistake that you made. It is never pretty when the market system exposes the corruption of a firm. But it serves a much necessary corrective function.