In the world's largest democracy, freedom of speech and expression is the
most crucial fundamental right availed to the citizens by the Indian
Constitution. The media is considered as a fourth pillar of the democracy and it
plays a vital role in a country's social, political, economical and
In the past, the India has witnessed the rise of political parties (Modi
Government), Falling of the Governments (Rajiv Gandhi's Government), crashing of
the economy (2008 crisis), all based on the information broadcasted regarding
them by media. A country's international reputation and the global impression
are largely influenced by the kind of news which prevails about that particular
country in the international press.
What is Freedom of Press?
Freedom of the Press refers to the minimal interference of the state in the
operation of press on any form of communication including, print (newspapers,
magazines, journals, reports); audio (radios, podcasts); video (news channels,
OTT platforms like YouTube) and over the electronic mediums like news apps,
social media feeds, etc.
Why Freedom of the Press?
- As per Indian newspaper Vs Union of India, the objective of the press is
to supplement the public interest by printing the facts and opinions without
which the citizens of the country cannot make well informed rational
judgements. Freedom of the Press is the crux of the social and political
inter-course. It is the paramount duty of the judiciary to prop the freedom
of the press and refute all laws and executive actions that interfere with
it as opposed with the constitutional provisions.
- Press is a medium of availing knowledge and spreading the vital
information of events, developments, incidents, of national interest to the
whole nation and thus free and fair operation of the press makes the
backbone of civil society which is capable of critical and independent
thinking and forms its opinion about the country and the government after
scrutinizing the facts of the situations wisely.
Article 19 and Freedom of the Press:
Freedom of press is implicit under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution,
which provides for the freedom of the speech and expression under part III
(Fundamental Rights). It does not explicitly provide the term "freedom of press"
saying that the press is just another method of quoting an individual citizen
when anyone chooses to write in a newspaper, they are merely exercising their
right pf expression and thus, there is absolutely no need to separately mentions
the freedom of the press.
Reasonable limitation of freedom of Press:
We all know that unrestricted freedom, that is, liberty without any reasonable
restriction on it always hampers the very purpose of granting that freedom in
the first place, that is to empower the individuals as it backfires and makes
the right of individual collapse with one another. As freedom of press derives
powers from Article 19(1)(a), it is also subjected to the reasonable limitation
on article 19(1)(a) and under Article 19(2) which are explained as follow:
Sovereignty and Integrity of the state:
It was inserted by an amendment to control the extreme reactions of the people,
who were protesting for separate entities of the different regions of India. Any
form of speech or expression which hampers the sovereignty and integrity of the
state would be covered under this restriction. The right to freedom of speech
and expression can't be allowed to be used as a weapon against the sovereignty
and integrity of the state.
Security of the state:
- The freedom of expression can't be exercised in a way so that it becomes
a threat to the security of the state in any manner. Any communication which
incites people to cause social unrest, rebels, violence, riots, etc against
the state and its subjects would be covered under this restriction.
- In the State of Bihar vs Shailabala Devi, SC held the speeches made by
any person (citizen or non citizen) with courage of people to commit
offences like dacoity, murder, robbery, etc without a doubt a threat to the
security of the state.
- Hence such speech will be considered as a prejudice towards the
sovereignty and integrity of the state, and the order to stop or curtail
such communication is covered under this restrictions of Article 19(2).
- The term was inserted by the Constitutional (First amendment) Act, 1951.
This clause was added to curtail the effects of Romesh Thappar Vs State of
Madras where the SC held that the right to circulation is an intrinsic organ
of right to freedom of expression.
- In one of the case, the SC held that the term "public order" can be
construed as "no insurrections or riots or disturbance to public peace."
Decency or Morality:
For preserving the decency or morality in the country, the state has the
authority to limit the freedom of speech and expression of an individual.
Further elaboration of this ground is reflected in sections 292 to 294 of the
IPC. The mentioned sections list downs some acts as crime as such selling
obscene publication to young individuals, making indecent gestures in public
In Ranjit Udeshi Vs State of Maharashtra
SC held that the S. 292 of IPC
is constitutional as it prohibits obscenity in public places to promulgates
public decency and morality.
Contempt of Court:
- There is no doubt that freedom of speech and expression is very crucial
for societal development, but on the other hand, providing and maintaining
justice and equity is also equally substantial. Though, freedom of speech
and expression reckons but it can't be wielded to cancel out court's action
- The SC under Article 129 & the HCs under Article 215 of the Constitution
is empowered to take punitive actions for contempt of court. It was further
held in one of the case called C.K. daphtary Vs O.P. Guptathat S. 228 of IPC
and A.129 of the constitution are valid and are covered within the preview
of reasonable restrictions enshrined under Article 19(2) of the
Friendly Relations with Foreign States:
- Article 19(1)(a) in no manner gives license to cause damage to the
reputation of a person in the name of freedom of speech and expression.
Causing damage to an individual's reputation is considered as defamation and
is a stringent limitation to the right to freedom of speech and expression.
- No one is allowed to expose a person to hate, ridicule or contempt by
means of any expression, signs or gestures. Defamation is considered as a
very stringent act therefore it is prohibited by the Civil Laws of Torts. It
is an punishable offence under S. 499 of the IPC.
Incitement to an offence:
- Just like with the term "Public Order", this ground was also inserted in
Article 19(2) of the Constitution via Constitutional (First Amendment) Act,
1951. The main objective of incorporating this restriction is was to counter
antagonistic and mala fide propaganda against any foreign country which may
have friendly connections the Republic of India.
- Such activities can jeopardize the government's efforts to promulgate
and maintain the friendly relations with foreign nations and bring lucrative
results out of those results for India.
- As per the criminal jurisprudence, the act of incitement or abetment to
an offence is a distinct and independent offence per se. Exercising the
freedom of speech and expression to incite an offence would be considered as
a threat to the public order.
- Just like the terms "public order" and "friendly relations with foreign
states", this ground of reasonable restriction was incorporated in the
constitution via the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. In State of
Bihar v Shailabala Devi, it was held by SC that any communication which
leads to incitement of any criminal act can be restricted and any order for
such ban will fall within the purview of reasonable restrictions envisaged
in Article 19(2) of constitution.
Currently, India's rank in the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without
Borders is 140th amongst 180 countries. This rank has taken some serious
declines in the last decade from 133 to 136 in 2017; 136 to 138 in 2018; 138 to
140 in 2019. This dip is due to the beating, prosecution and even deaths of
journalists on the line of work. We often see videos of journalists getting
lynched and being publicly beaten for trying to expose politicians or government
officials. This shows some serious concern pertaining to the freedom given to
press in the country with the world's biggest Constitution and bureaucratic
Press is supposed to be the voice of the public to the government, but in modern
times, a contrast to this can be observed, where some of the major mainstream
media houses are marketing the political parties while criticizing the
oppositions parties and not discussing the relevant issues like public welfare,
corruption, analysis of government schemes, etc. Though it is also true that
forums like WhatsApp, YouTube, and Facebook which are totally independent are
have become prone to fake news leading to mob lynching, fear-mongering, hate
speech, propaganda spreading and indecency promoting, which highlights the need
of some reasonable restrictions of the press.
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