Context:

Gauri Lankesh, a senior Kannada journalist known for her criticism of Hindu extremism, was recently shot dead.

Introduction:

  • The killing again raised the question on freedom of press and challenges that Indian press is facing in present scenario.

What is Freedom of press?

  • In India, freedom of the press has been treated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.
  • The Indian constitution guarantees the“freedom of speech and expression” as a fundamental right of every citizen of India.

Why freedom of press in necessary?

  • It check on Government and Administrators
  • The duty of a free press is to raise voice against any social ill or wrong.
  • It works towards strengthening the sovereignty and integrity of a nation
  • It helps in building an environment where the people of the country can cultivate unity and harmony.
  • A free press is fundamental to a democratic society
  • The press provides the platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard.
  • At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.
  • It is helpful in strengthening democracy
  • In India, the media have played a key role in providing information to the people about social and economic evils.

What are the challenges that Indian press is facing today?

Press is the fourth pillar of democracy, but in the largest democracy of the world it is facing serious challenges.

  • Freedom of press: Instances like in the case of NDTV shutdown for reporting during Pathankot attack, weak whitsle –blower protection act, defamation suits etc have restricted the freedom of press.
  • Paid News, a nexus between media persons and politicians seems to have taken firm roots in India.
  • The Election Commission is reported to have identified more than 1,400 cases of paid news between 2009 and 2013.
  • Biasness of reporters, editors etc have dented the image of news channels and newspapers.
  • Corporate and political lobbying and ownership
  • Yellow journalism: Unnecessary sensationalisation of issues to fetch TRP meddles with the real content of news.
  • Weak regulation: only a self regulating body like PCI(Press Council of India) has little power or legislative backup to regulate the press.
  • Advent of social media; Competition for instant and quick news and reporting without first checking the facts.
  • Media trials: Often media declares the verdict immediately after an allegation. This is contempt of court and also violates right to reputation of an accused who later gets evicted.

What are the legal provisions related to freedom of press?

  • In Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, the Supreme Court acknowledged, “Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations”,
  • In India, freedom of the press has been treated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the constitution vide Brij Bhushan and Another vs the State of Delhi, AIR 1950  and Sakal papers(P) Ltd vs Union of India, AIR 1962

What are the restrictions available on Press?

  • The restrictions that apply to the “freedom of speech and expression” also apply to the “freedom of press and media”.
  • Article 19(2), provides reasonable restrictions on the following grounds:
  • In the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  • Security of the state, public order, decency, or morality, or in relation to contempt of courts, defamation,
  • Freedom of press is not absolute in India.

What need to be done for securing freedom of press?

  • The Supreme Court is the “Upholder and Protector of the Constitution. It is essential that proper reform is brought about by way of Legislation or Precedent by the SC to ensure the legitimcy of news and the “Freedom of the Press”.
  • A regulatory body comprising both of media persons and government bodies should be established to give media a fair play and check its arbitrariness at the same time.
  • Reform should come from within the media especial from senior editors and journalists. They should start exposing cases of fake news, conflict of interest, making the working of press more transparent.
  • The legislative backup for PCI to give it more power for regulation is also required.

Conclusion:

  • In a developing country like India the press have a great responsibility to fight against backward ideas like casteism and communalism, and other social evils.
  • Large section of the people in India are backward and ignorant, so it is necessary that modern ides are brought to them and their backwardness removed so that they become part of enlightened India. The free and fearless press plays a key role here.
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