“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas though any media and regardless of frontiers” this is stated in Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. Media is a powerful and essential tool in providing information without restriction to the public at large which is an important requirement for the functioning of a democratic system of a country. People are unable to take part in the affairs of the country if they are unaware of what is happening in their society or if the actions of those who are ruling or governing them, which makes media as an important medium for them to know this.
In India press is not absolutely free they have some reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, which makes RTI becomes an important tool for the journalists. As press freedom is partial the media can use RTI to get information about the government. RTI enables media to expose corruption, inefficiency or mal-administration of the government.
Under the RTI Act, 2005 the media as well as citizens can demand:
- Government information pertaining to any of its departments
- Photocopies of Government contracts, payment, estimates, measurement of engineering works, etc.
- Government certified samples of material used in construction of roads, drains, buildings, etc.
- To inspect any public development work that may be under construction or is completed.
- To inspect Government documents- construction drawings, record books, registers, etc.
- Status of requests or complaints, details of time delays, actions taken on Information Commission’s decisions, etc.
Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution gives the citizens of India the right to freedom of speech and expression. But this right will be said to be incomplete if it does not include access of information. Right to receive and impart information is an integral part of Article 19(1) but this also comes with reasonable restrictions, if there is any under clause (2) of Article 19. The nature of this right has been discussed in various cases decided by the Supreme Court. The landmark case of Secretary, Ministry of I & B, Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal (1995) the Supreme Court held that “The freedom of speech and expression includes right to acquire information and disseminate it. Freedom of speech and expression is important for self-expression and it enables people to contribute to debates on social and moral issues. It is the only vehicle of political discourse so essential to democracy. The right to communicate, therefore, includes the right to communicate through any media that is available whether print or electronic or audio-visual such as advertisement, article, speech, etc. This is why freedom of speech and expression also includes freedom of press. The freedom of press includes right to circulate and also to determine the volume of such circulation. It also includes the freedom to communicate or circulate one’s opinion without interference to as large a population in country as well as abroad, as possible to reach.”
So, it was held that the right to impart and receive information from the electronic media is a part to right to freedom of speech and expression. In the case of Benett Coleman (1973), the Supreme Court held that right to information is included within the right to freedom and speech of expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. In the case of Raj Narain (1975) the Supreme Court stated that: “The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearings.” RTI is considered vital for the media and it’s an endeavour for the media to be watch dog for the society. It has encouraged the media and the society to think at large and ask questions about state affairs and promoting accountability.
Media can play a very constructive and vital role in the governance process of the country:
- Providing information to the citizens and creating awareness about the RTI Act,2005
- Acting as a catalyst on implementation of the Act by acting in his role of the fourth pillar of the democracy
- Giving voice to the citizens
- Acting as a watchdog on behalf of citizens
The only block in the path of journalism has always been not getting access to official information but the RTI Act, 2005 has solved this problem. But still there are some government authorities who have been adamant in denying information by claiming exemptions using various circulars of government departments and court orders. So, it is important for the media to play a good and honest role of a mediator between the government and the citizens to provide information by carefully interpreting facts and evidences while digging out the truth. The media must be free of any bias or favouritism and should consider its independence as a valuable asset for the citizens making itself to be an agent pof empowerment for the society.
Author: Kashish Yadav