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Freedom Of Press In India: A Legal Perspective

The word Press in general consensus refers to mass media, publications, magazines and newspapers and the people who are referred or considered working for the press are journalists. Press was formed with the objective of providing unbiased news, opinions, comments and viewpoints on the matter of state and public affairs.

But since then, the term has relevantly evolved and today the press doesn't just provide news, opinions, comments and viewpoints on the matters of state, but from the whole world, whether that news is important or unimportant. The means of the press has evolved as well, from printing to T.Vs, radios and podcasts, the press helps people form an opinion and judgement on matters like What's going on in their society?, whether we should vote this particular individual for next election or not?, do I have to be on guard about a specific thing? but are these questions being answered without any mala fide? And are journalist's permitted to freely write and publish anything without any interference by authorities?

Why Should There Be A Freedom Of The Press?

The objective of the press is to spread news, ideas, opinions, awareness by printing the facts and opinions on abundant matters by which citizens can form a rational judgement on a particular subject and a rational judgement can't be formed without proper information of the subject and this is where the press comes into play. But if the press is restricted on the matters of providing information, a rational or sensible judgement can't be formed.

In democratic countries, the press has a vital role here, as without proper and lucid information people can't decide for whom they should vote? A free press is integral to social and political discourse, this was recognised by the courts in the case of Indian Newspapers v Union of India, where it was held that: The press has now assumed the role of the public educator making formal and non-formal education possible in a large scale particularly in the developing world, where television and other kinds of modern communication are not still available for all sections of society.

The purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgments 1 Concluded that press is the medium of information in the modern developing world and that information should be unbiased and spread with bon fide.

Freedom Of Press In India And Article 19:

In India the Freedom of Press is not explicitly stated in the constitution, it's implicitly stated under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution which states Freedom of Speech and Expression which is the right to express one's opinion freely without any fear through oral/written/electronic/broadcasting/press.

During the framing of the constitution, there was a debate in constituent assembly about this and it was made clear by Dr B.R Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee:
That no special mention of the freedom of the press was necessary at all as the press and an individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of expression was concerned. Considering the case of Romesh Thaper v/s State of Madras it was observed by Patanjali Sastri J.: that freedom of speech and expression included propagation of ideas, and that freedom was ensured by the freedom of circulation.�2 After this freedom of the press was considered as a curial part of the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed in Article 19(1) (a) of the constitution.2

Should The Press Be Given The Right To Free Flow Of Information Without Any Legal Consequences?

The rational answer to this can be that, no doubt there should be freedom of the press no doubt, the citizen has the right to know about the matter's of state, public affairs, case proceedings etc, but it can't be taken out of proportion that certain reasonable limitations are necessary to make sure that this freedom isn't misused or used with mala fide.

To prevent this, some reasonable limitations have been imposed on freedom of speech and expression as, freedom of press derives its powers from Article 19(1)(a), it is also subject to the reasonable limitations imposed on Article 19 (1)(a) under Article 19(2).

Following are the situation's in which freedom of speech of expression (that is the freedom of the press as well can be restricted:
  1. Security Of State:

    if the freedom of expression is used in such a way that it promotes violence, rebels, riots etc it becomes a threat to the security of the state. Considering the case law of State of Bihar v/s Shailabala Devi, the apex court held that: Any person citizen or non-citizen makes a speech which promotes or encourages people to commit offences such as murder, robbery, riots etc is without a doubt threat to the national security of the state and order to stop this is covered under Article 19(2). 3
  2. Public Order:

    If the freedom of speech and expression is excised in such a manner that it disturbs the peace and order of the public or society i.e: promotion of riots, creating havoc etc, can be considered as a violation of such freedom and for this purpose as well, reasonable limitation's have been imposed to prevent such violation. The term Public Order can be constructed as no rebellion's or riots or disturbance of public peace, this was held by the apex court in the case of Madhu Limaye v/s Sub Divisional Magistrate Monghyr.4
  3. Contempt Of Court:

    A person expressing their view while in the court of law has keep certain things in check that even though there is a freedom of speech and expression in the court of law, that freedom is not supposed to used in such a way that it disrespect's anyone in court (especially judges, lawyers or court official). While in an ongoing proceeding, if court finds someone speaking or expressing in such a manner that is disrespectful, court can find that person in it's contempt.

    As made lucid in the Indian Constitution, the Apex Court under Article 129 and High Court under Article 215 have the authority to take punitive action for contempt of court. This was further held in C.K Daphtary VS O.P Gupta5 where it was held that S.228 of I.P.C and A.129 of the Indian Constitution are reasonably valid and covered within the purview of reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Are These Restrictions On Press Necessary And Justifiable?

There is no doubt that press is essential part of a country, especially a democratic country where the citizen's form opinion and come to conclusion based on what press presents to them. In the legal perspective, everyone despite any diversity are viewed in an equal manner and be that it is reasonably considered that everyone (a person or a thing) has it's pro's and con's, while the pro's may be beneficial for the society at large, we have be reasonable and be prepared for the con's or do something to prevent them.

The above mentioned reasonable restriction's are necessary because if complete freedom is given, it can be misused, here journalist's ethics6 is considered that a journalist's should present news and opinions in an unbiased manner and not personally attack or misrepresent a figure for which he/she may hold a personal grudge against.

To prevent harm's which may create havoc or chaos among citizen's or force people to rebel against their own government or start a religious conflict because of misinformation or biased news which may not even to be true but is presented in that way to the citizen's. That's why certain limitation's have been imposed to prevent such things.

In India, the journalism is considered a dangerous profession as we have seen journalists getting death threat's or even murdered while exposing a certain truth7 (Source The Wire In), and India is ranked 140th in Press freedom according to the World Press Freedom Index By Reporter's without Borders. The objective of Press is to deliver news and be voice of citizen's in aspects like welfare, corruption statistic's and interpreting the work of government and not supposed to disperse irrelevant news.

The Press has to maintain certain ethics and work by the book which is in accordance with law, but at the same time, statutory authorities have to take the responsibility that journalist's are not murdered or harmed while doing the good thing.

To mention in recent times in India the authorities have given reasonable freedom to press which is in the form of Whistleblower Act, Sedition Act and amending RTI Act as citizen's have the right to information which is supposed to be lucid, truthful, lawful and with any mala fide and many of us would are extremely eager to see the day when Press not just in India but in every part of world is free to cover news while being safe and present unbiased opinion's about any significant subject.

The Cadit quaestio here is:
Which source should the citizen's trust after knowing about this particular reality? If I were to answer this bluntly, I particular find the content, article's and information precise of these following sources: The Wire In, Wall Street Journal, BBC World, The Hindu, Pocket and The Quint.

  1. Indian Newspaper v/s Union of India
  2. Romesh Thaper v/s State of Madras
  3. State of Bihar v/s Shailabala Devi
  4. Madhu Limaye v/s Sub Divisional Magistrate Monghyr
  5. C.K Daphtary v/s O.P Gupta
  6. The Wire In
  7. The Wire In

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