The Third Law
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction, proposed Sir Isaac Newton in 1687. Scientists, engineers or philosophers have used this dictum to further research and innovation and its frequent mention in ordinary conversation highlights its universal understanding. Initiatives and actions from businesses, for-profit and not-for-profit organisations, individuals, communities or countries can sometimes be explained by this axiom. The rule even has an uncanny alignment with reward and redemption criterion described in religion. And as far as planning and implementation of almost any strategy is concerned, consideration of this principle is absolutely critical.
This is why it is amazing to observe recent actions/reactions from the government. First, the government’s reaction to Transparency International’s recent report, Positive and Negative Roles of the Members of the 9th Parliament: A Review, stating that of 149 MPs studied, 97 % of the MPs are found to be involved in some form of negative activity, as opposed to only 53% of the MPs who contributed positively to their constituencies. The report also included opposition MPsâ€™ activities (12 and 5, respectively, found to be involved in negative or positive ways). Of the negatives, flagrant abuse of trust as in influencing administrative works, educational institutions, public procurement process, involvement in criminal activities and violating electoral rules are highlighted.
The reaction was unsurprising, as this is not the first time TI has been scorned and nor it is the first government to denounce its findings. Between 2001 and 2005 the country received the worst possible corruption ranking in consecutive years. The response of the then government (now the opposition) is similar to that expressed by the present government (then the opposition). A comical reminder of the Third Law?
A second reaction is the draft online media policy proposing a hefty fee for setting up and running online news/blog portals. Though the new Information Minister has reassured that the final decision will only be made after consultation with experts, the concern remains: what is the motive behind this? In an age of free- flowing information, when pundits around the globe stress wide ranging benefits from this free flow via the internet, any attempt to restrict the flow of opinion is appalling, if that is the reason behind developing such guidelines.
Need we have to explain the far reaching ill-effects of internet censorship to highly qualified policy makers? That it is hard to welcome business but not to welcome free expression, simultaneously or selectively; that restricted internet freedom can affect creativity, education, social mobility and economic aspiration?
Censorship itself, albeit still popular, has become a blunt instrument. However hard critics are policed, they will find a way around it. China, despite its draconian internet policy, is seldom able to contain criticism from bloggers.
Third, it has been reported that private media outlets (other than a selected few) are not allowed to cover the PM’s programmes. Why? Private TV channels including their talk-shows are blatantly biased against the PM.
In introducing a law, lawmakers are supposed to consider its long term impact. A move to control expression of free opinion, specially when it is critical of the authority or a government, would compromise democratic benefits, not only during the present regime but also in the future with others at the helm who would be tempted to abuse it.
This is the thrust of the Third Law in the current context, and it is sad and painful to notice rulers ignoring it.
There is also a grim side of the Third Law. Let me explain with a business analogy. When businesses in competition try to promote their products thorough junk mail, direct marketing or cold calling, over-zealousness, instead of increasing market share may lose a lot of it by irritating customers.
Just as it is prudent for a business to consider timing, cost, effect and client reactions for its sales and marketing campaigns, so it is for governments and for oppositions when they devise and deploy (strategic?) policies.
If they remember that there will always be consequences for their actions, possibly the dark side of the Third Law would be avoided.
Unless of course they are above the (Third) Law.
Irfan Chowdhury writes from Canberra, Australia.