Freedom of press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy
The existence of free, independent and powerful Media is foundation of democracy and this freedom is well recognized in constitution of India under article 19(1)(A). Free media is like best milk to democracy and known as the forth pillar of democracy. Democracy is the rule of people. And when the role is very crucial then it is must that it should be played with great professionalism, accountability and responsibly. It’s Media which plays great role in building a nation, the growth and downfall of a country is dependent on its Media. People make their opinions on every national, international issue through the help of media.
Well, in a civil society no right can be absolute right, great power comes with great responsibility and Media is also bounded by the restrictions covered under article 19(2).
A Democratic Country and Importance of Press & Media
Hilton Rowan Helper said “Slavery tolerates no freedom of the press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of opinion.” Slavery is antonym of democracy;
Obviously, India is biggest democracy of this world. It is must in a democratic country that people be well informed about all the social, economical and political business going on in their country and in the whole world, the ideologies of ruling government, opposition, and the ground reality of the country they are living in. Only a well informed person can analyse and decide what he wants from his representative and to whom he should choose by exercising his most powerful right in a democratic country that is election. In Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, Patanjali Shashtri, CJ, observed that “Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organization, for without political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”
The Constitution of India begins with preamble, PREAMBLE the Spirit of Constitution which guarantees the liberty of expression. The heart of article 19 says that everyone has right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinion without inference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any Media regardless to frontier. Right to Press includes the right to comment on public affairs as stated by Supreme Court in Benette Coleman v. State of Jammu and Kashmir.
The right to comment on public affairs includes the right to criticise people holding public post and also to criticise the public policies. The criticism here works as eye opener of citizen making them aware of what is going on around, how their government is working, what are the demerits and loopholes are there in the government’s policies and plans, The scams, the frauds everything. The situation is quiet clear that the freedom of press is not mere wordings but a concrete, rebel right which gives the right to speak freely on the matters one is effected of directly or indirectly and it includes the “criticism” media works as watchdog. As Jimmy Carter says “thoughtful criticism and close scrutiny of all government officials by the press and the public are an important part of democratic society. The press also enjoys the right to collect the diversified information from hostile sources on the ground of competitive market. In such a situation press is free from any monopolistic control from the government as has been stated by Honourable Supreme Court of India in many cases.
The Freedom of Press & Media is not Edge less or Absolute
When the Constitution was being drafted, the question aroused before the constitution maker of India that whether or not to have a separate provision for press like in constitution in America or to include the freedom of press in right to speech and expression as in constitution of England. In this context Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar said, “The Press is simply another way of describing a citizen or an individual. The Media has no superior privilege which is not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the voter in his separate capacity. The executive of press or the editor are all citizens and therefore when they select to write in a newspaper they are just exercising their right of free speech and expression.
The Supreme Court said a free Press is the heart and soul of political intercourse and is a public educator, but this freedom is not absolute and cannot be used by the media to cause injury to an individual’s precious reputation. Press freedom is “not an absolute right”, Press Council of India Chief Markandey Katju said “Freedom of Press is not an absolute right. The absolute right is the improvement of standard of living of the masses. If freedom of Press helps the improvement of standard of living of masses, then it’s a good thing but if freedom of Press lowers the standard of living of people, makes people poorer, then we must crush freedom of Press.”
The Court in the case of Dr. D. C. Saxena v. The Chief Justice of India alleged if preservation of democracy is foundation of free speech, society equally is authorized to regulate freedom of speech and expression through democratic action. The cause is evident, e.g., the society accepts free speech and expression and also puts restrictions on the rights of the majority. Recently in Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India the SC said there can be no existence of free citizen if the news media cannot speak, and therefore journalist freedom lies at the core of freedom of expression, but it is not absolute. Absolute rights in a civil society will only tend to anarchy, abuse of power and nothing. The right does not advocate wrong doings of anyone on the name of privilege.
In Constitution of India the freedom granted by article 19(1)(a) to Press and Media is a natural right , it subjects to restriction and limitations as imposed by 19(2) which says “nothing in subsection (a) of clause (1) all affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the state from making any law, in so far as much law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said subsection in interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India , the security of state, friendly relation with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. The Press cannot libel or slander individuals or publish information about troop movement or undercover operatives. The regulatory can enforce limits on television and radio programming by fining and revoking license. Along with the restrictions under article 19(2) there exist criminal provisions also (under section 499 and 500 of Indian Penal Code for defamation) India also allows civil proceeding in case of defamation. Balancing the power and restriction of Press and Media is a knotty and critical issue, needs to be scrutinized and exercised with great vigilance.
The Role Press & Media Playing in Present Scenario
The Press and Media have always played very crucial and important role. When all the revolutions and independence movement happened it was Media which was a source of information for the people. It was Media which made every Indian aware of tyranny, barbarism, arbitrariness of British rulers, Media helped in uniting people and get freedom from Colonial rule. Although with change in time the Media has also gone through massive changes. The most important issue that has changed with time is approach of Media, there was a time when Media gave so much importance to providing factual truth, ground report and authentic information. It used to be fearless in positive sense criticizing government, their policies, showing its viewer the truth, the Media was free and less influenced by polarization and political power but today the scenario has changed.
Recently in 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government had booked a journalist on charge of criminal conspiracy (120A) and fraud (421) for showing a video of a primary school in Mirzapur where students were served with roti and salt only under Mid Day Meal Scheme. This example is small but if one thinks about it he can get the idea that how the powers have usurped or trying to control the Media in their own way.
The pressure of people in power has totally toppled the situation now it takes a lot of courage to raise voice against anything which a person finds wrong. Criticism is like breathes for a body of democracy and it should be encouraged and accepted by everyone but today criticizing is like blunder even for media(watchdog of government). On one hand the big media houses have already knelt down before the positions in power, sometimes working like ambassadors of spreading fake news, hatred and communalism, the bootlicking and paid media culture are the reasons that today the democracy is trembling only on its three pillars because the forth pillar seem to be lost its path and values. India has dropped two places on the 2020 World Press Freedom index by Reporters without Borders and is now ranked 142 out of total 180 countries. The report is heavily affected by the situation in Kashmir.
The abrogation of article 370 of Constitution in August last year and imposition of communication blackout for several months. The government made it “virtually impossible for journalist to cover what was happening in what has become a vast open prison,” the report added. The report also stated that “there have been constant Press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.” Also the Media has tended to misuse its powers, the practice which has become more of a daily occurrence now is that of Media Trials. Something which was started to show to the public at large the truth about the cases has now become a practice of inferring dangerously with the justice delivery system. With great power comes great responsibility. And Press and Media need to follow this norm always.
The Media is no doubt very necessary and is an influential source of information, playing important role in building a nation, Media should be a platform for everyone irrespective of one’s financial status or living place. Today when humanitarian crisis is becoming new normal especially in the case of poverty stricken people its only Media which can help considerably in uplifting them from their sorrows, Media is voice of people, Media can bring revolutions. Venkatramaiah, J. of Supreme Court of India in Indian Express Newspaper (Bombay) v. Union of India has stated: “in today’s free world freedom of press is heart of political intercourse. The press has now assumed the role of the public educator making formal, informal education possible in a large scale particularly in a developing world. Democracy, Media, Criticism go hand in hand together, also Media should be free but it doesn’t mean it has liberty of being absurd and infringing rights of other people, it will be like disrespecting the Constitutional values. It is the duty of every reporter to maintain dignity and honor and to never lose the values and norms of healthy Journalism.
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By: Aparna Verma (Pt. Motilal Nehru Law College)