Freedom Of The Press : A Mirror Of The Society
This article is written by Neha Bisht, a Third Year B.A. LLB (Hons.) Student of Ideal Institute of Management and Technology (Affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indrapastha University), Delhi.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS- A MIRROR OF THE SOCIETY
“India is a vibrant democracy and the fourth estate is indubitably an indispensable part of it. If the voice of the fourth estate is stifled … India will become a Nazi State and the hard labour of our freedom fighters and makers of our Constitution will go down the drain. “
–Justice P.N Prakash of the Madras High Court
For a democracy to function properly, it becomes extremely essential for all the pillars to work efficiently. The media which has earned itself the status of the fourth pillar of the democracy has the duty to dig out news of public interest from every corner of the world. It is said that with great power comes great responsibility and in this era of social media where fake news can be circulated within a snap of a finger, what distinguishes press from other information spreading sources is their accountability to the audience. Whether the press uses its power judiciously or not is an age-old debate.
POWERS CONFERRED TO THE PRESS
Chairman of the Drafting Committee Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar argued that that it is not necessary to specially mention freedom of press at all as the editors of press or other members are all citizens and therefore when they choose to write in the newspaper, they are merely exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression. The constitution of India nowhere expressly mentions about the freedom of press as a fundamental right however over the years, the Supreme Court through various landmark cases has highlighted the need of freedom of press. In Brij Bhushan V The State of Delhi it was held that freedom of press is included in the freedom of speech and expression with reasonable restrictions.
The court has upheld the Freedom of Press in a long line of judgements commencing from Romesh Thappar V State of Madras where the court added “public order” as a reasonable restriction under Art 19(2) of the constitution. In this case the question again arose about the freedom of speech of the press, when the Govt of Madras imposed a ban on the circulation, sale or distribution of the weekly journal in the province of Madras which was in accordance with the Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act,1949. The Supreme Court quashed the order of the Govt of Madras using the doctrine of severability and declared section 9(1-A) as unconstitutional and void stating that no law can fall within the reasonable restrictions conferred under clause 2 of art 19 unless it undermines the security of the state or overthrows the govt. The Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The court has time and again passed judgements supporting the freedom of press in cases like Sakal Papers V Union of India, where the court held the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order,1960 unconstitutional as it restricted the freedom of speech and expression.
Often, we see govt imposing censorship on press when it criticises the govt or questions its credibility. Noted lawyer Fali Nariman expressed his concern over the fact that if media’s opinion doesn’t align with the opinion of the govt then they have to face consequences for the same and further said that “The freedom of speech is all about freedom after speech”. One such recent case is when the centre imposed a 48-hour ban on two Malayalam news channels for broadcasting the communal violence in Delhi. However, the ban was later lifted by the centre stating that while it will look into the matter but there has to be responsible freedom. Media whose primary duty is to put forth news so as to help people form an opinion cannot be denied the freedom of expression.
FALLING QUALITY OF THE PRESS
The Law Commission of India in its 200th report, released in August 2006, under the title “Trial by Media: Free Speech and Fair Trial Under Criminal Procedure Code, 1973” reminded the media its restrictions and expressed its concern over the unrestricted powers conferred to the media with regards to the administration of criminal justice. This report laid emphasize on how media while exercising its own freedom also sabotages the dignity and freedom of others.
Nobody can infringe the right of any other person while exercising their own freedom and sometimes media reports the cases in such a way that it violates the right of an accused to have a fair trial. In Jessica Lal case, the Supreme Court cautioned the media that every possible step should be taken by the media to strike a balance between trial by media and informative media. If the media destroys the presumption of innocence of an accuse at the initial stage of the case then this may lead to miscarriage of justice as the judges may be subconsciously influenced by the media.
The media may have the right to publish their opinion but while doing so, they cannot recklessly rip apart the goodwill earned by an accused throughout his life. At times, the trials collapse but by the time the media has so badly tarnished their reputation that they can never go back to living their normal lives
Media agencies start publishing or broadcasting sponsored news ahead of elections to influence the opinion of people. We see news channels inclining themselves to a particular political party or leader. To eliminate such paid news the Election Expenditure Committee decided to charge ₹ 250 for every 10 seconds if news channel programme about a political leader or a party is aired more than five times. Such paid news questions the very concept of transparency of a country which is known to be “the biggest democracy of the world”. These media houses which claim to show the mirror to society should reflect upon their actions themselves before violating the media ethics.
India dropping two ranks on a Global Press Freedom Index ,ranking 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis can be considered as a wake – up call for the citizens of the country to act before the govt curtails the rights of the press and its position is reduced to mere a puppet of the govt. However, it would be wrong to put the blame entirely on the govt for restricting the freedom of press considering how some media agencies shift their focus from serving the public interest to filling their own pockets. Often media agencies sensationalize news to garner eyeballs for high TRP ratings to win the rat race and make more money due to which eventually the news of public interest is lost somewhere behind. It is the duty of the govt to put an end to such journalism by striking a balance between freedom of the press and its restrictions. The press is known to be the eyes and ears of the general public and by limitlessly curtailing its power we are heading towards a system where the media will be fully censored and it is a well-known fact that censorship and freedom cannot coexist.
Freedom Of The Press : A Mirror Of The Society