Upholding the freedom of the press and expression in all forms

Context:

  • Without free freedom of speech & of the press no public education is possible which is essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government.
  • Thus, the government has recently underlined the commitment for “upholding the freedom of the press and expression in all forms”.

What is Freedom of press?

  • Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication and expression through various mediums, such as electronic media and published materials.
  • Wherever such freedom exists mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state and its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections.
  • 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.

Elements of Freedom of press:

  • Freedom of press has three essential elements:
  1. Freedom of access to all sources of information
  2. Freedom of publication, and
  3. Freedom of circulation.

What are the restrictions of freedom of press?

  • Article 19(2): 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:
  1. Sovereignty & Integrity of India
  2. Security of the State
  3. Friendly relations with Foreign States
  4. Public Order
  5. Decency or Morality
  6. Contempt of Court
  • Press Council of India: The Press Council of India acts as a watchdog for the print media.
  •  It has quasi- judicial powers which have empowered the council to hold hearings on receipt of complaints and take suitable action where appropriate.
  • News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA): In the case of television news, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) looks into violation of code of ethics laid out by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA).
  • No law for protection of identity of sources: The protection of identity of sources used by the journalists is an important element in how they unearth the truth.
  • However, in India, there are no statutory rights accorded to journalists to protect their sources.
  • Criminal defamation: Criminal defamation, as defined under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, permits any person who has suffered damage in reputation on action of others to sue for defamation.

What are the provisions for the protection of freedom of press?

  • The Indian news press enjoys two-fold protection:

Article 19(1) (a):

  • Although, the Indian Constitution does not expressly mention the liberty of the press, it is evident that the liberty of the press is included in the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a).
  • Freedom under Article 19(1) (a) is not only cribbed, cabined and confined to newspapers and periodicals but also includes pamphlets, leaflets, handbills, circulars and every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.

Article 19(1) (g):

  • The freedom to engage in any profession, occupation, trade, industry or business, guaranteed under Article 19(1) (g).

Other legislation:

  • The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867: This Act regulates printing presses and newspapers and makes registration with an appointed Authority compulsory for all printing presses.
  • Civil Defence Act, 1968: It allows the Government to make rules for the prohibition of printing and publication of any book, newspaper or other document prejudicial to the Civil Defence.
  • Press Council Act, 1978: Under this Act, the Press Council was reconstituted (after 1976) to maintain and improve the standards of newspaper and news agencies in India.

What is the importance of freedom of the press?

  • Fundamental to a democratic society: The freedom of press is fundamental to a democratic society like India for it is helpful in strengthening democracy.
  • Check on Government and Administrators: An independent press and news-media press acts as an important check on Government and Administrators.
  • Voice against any social ill or wrong: It is also responsible to raise voice against any social ill or wrong.
  • Strengthening a nation: It works towards strengthening the sovereignty and integrity of a nation.
  • Acts for the public: At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s voice, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.
  • Caution in passing judgments: The press exercises caution in passing judgments, especially on matters where the due process of law is yet to be completed.

How can freedom of press be misused?

  • There are often wide public outrages following the negative coverage by press.
  • The press is often guilty of exhibiting a marked bias towards a certain political figure or a party or community or group.
  • Freedom of the press is seen to block progress and to help businessmen make money.
  • Freedom of press may divert attention of the Indian people from the real issues which are socio-economic, to non-issues.
  • The press is also looked upon by its owners as a means of making money.

What is the way ahead?

  • It is essential that proper reform is brought about by way of Legislation or Precedent by the Supreme Court to ensure the legitimacy 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.
  • Senior editors and journalists should start exposing cases of fake news, conflict of interest, making the working of press more transparent.
  • Press freedom under Article 19(1) (g) has to be secured as such to allow the public to be well informed.
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