New Delhi: Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal on Tuesday vowed to stop offensive and defamatory content on internet sites as a controversy raged over government's move to monitor content in cyber space.

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Maintaining that the government does not want to interfere with the freedom of the press, he said if the social networking sites are not willing to cooperate with the government on stopping incendiary material "then it is the duty of the government to think of steps that we need."

"This government does not believe in censorship and does not believe either directly or indirectly interefering in the freedom of the press. We have demonstrated that time and again," he said.

Sibal's hurriedly-called press conference came against backdrop of government's meetings with the officials from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo over last few weeks after offensive material particularly against Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was put on the net.

He said his request for cooperation from them fell on "deaf ears" and "we will not allow intermediaries to say that the throw up our hands and we cannot do anything about it."

Facebook in its reaction said it will cooperate in removing any content that violates its terms which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service.

Google said it will abide by local law and take any material if it violates its policies but asserted that it will not remove any content just because it is controversial.

"We recognise the government's interest in minimising the amount of abusive content that is available online and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue," the Facebook statement said.

Google said that when content is illegal it abides by local law and removes it. And even where the content is legal but violates "our terms and conditions, we take that down too, once we have been notified."

However, it says, when content is legal and does not violate its policies, it will not remove just because it is controversial.

Even as Sibal defended the government's move, criticism poured in the cyber space that India should not emulate countries like China in attempting to gag freedom of expression.

However, the Minister got support from Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP, who is popular in cyber world. "Have to say I support Kapil Sibal on the examples he gave me: deeply offensive material about religions & communities that could incite riots," Tharoor tweeted.

But his political rivals and MPs Varun Gandhi and Jayant Choudhary differed.

However, Gandhi, BJP MP from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, disagreed with Tharoor and said Internet is the only truly democratic medium free of "vested interests, media owners & paid-off journos." "Can see why Sibal wants to gag it," he said.

Chaudhary said "Censorship of the internet - Forget the desirability issue for a minute, IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE??!!!"

Digvijay backs Sibal move

Congress leader Digvijay Singh backed Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal's drive against offensive and defamatory content on internet sites, saying that the service providers should observe self regulation.

Singh, who has been himself a victim of such content, said that he was not in favour of a ban but for the service providers to ensure that they do not allow their platform to be used for maligning the image of anyone.

He said that freedom of expression does not mean allowing vilest abuses against anyone. 64-year-old Singh has courted controversy at regular intervals with remarks on Hindutva terror, Batla House encounter, Maoism and Home Minister P Chidambaram.

Singh, who has filed a complaint against several persons and websites including Facebook and Twitter, said the IT Act of Delhi has all the provisions that could land those carrying such defamatory content in trouble.

His lawyer Rohit Kochar said that posting such offensive content was no longer a civil offence but a criminal one which has provision of imprisonment of upto three years.

Singh has filed a complaint against 22 people who used websites to allegedly post "highly offensive" content against him. He has also sought registration of case against eight websites.