•  •  Dark Mode

Your Interests & Preferences

I am a...

law firm lawyer
in-house company lawyer
litigation lawyer
law student
aspiring student

Website Look & Feel

 •  •  Dark Mode
Blog Layout

Save preferences
An estimated 9-minute read

Curbing the Media

 Email  Facebook  Tweet  Linked-in

Freedom of the Press; Use and Misuse

                                                                                                                                                          ©RAAGYA P. ZADU

The freedom of speech and expression is one of the most potent instrument in the hands of the citizens of a democratic country which equips them with the power to express their views in whatever manner they feel right. But the freedom of speech and expression are not absolute powers, nor are any of them guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India. They are subject to reasonable restrictions which are under the following few heads; security of state, friendly relations with foreign states, decency and morality, public order, contempt of court, defamation, sovereignty and integrity of India. This implies that the citizens are to exercise their freedom of speech and expression within the limits that do not hamper the peace and do not incite any indecency or flout the norms of public order. The most important freedom which is implied from the above expressly provided freedom is the freedom of the press. That is, providing for a free and independent medium of Press whether telecasted or printed.

Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri in Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras [i] stated that the “freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government is possible.” This directly means that through no means can the media and the press be controlled and they are allowed to function freely and without the fear of being censored. It was first in the pre-colonial era that the Britishers imposed severe press censorship to keep a check on what was being circulated among the masses with a view to avoid any mutiny among the people. In the 1950s, when the constitution was drafted, it provided for various freedoms and liberties to empower the people of the country and simultaneously provided for reasonable restrictions in order to prevent any kind of misuse of the provided freedoms.

Time and again a question that has been raised is that if the media should be told its boundaries. Recently, the concept of Yellow Journalism, ‘paid’ news and fake sensationalism has started which in a way has caused more of trouble than it has done any good. Today, most of the media houses are owned by profit-making businessmen who are more interested in making money rather than in sensitizing the masses by giving them an apt report of the actual matters. This is the reason why unnecessary news is highlighted and spiced to make it sell on the television so that the chanel’s TRP rates are boosted. To achieve this end, sometimes, media often relishes on sensitive topics and brings in up among the masses in a way that the people are made to believe more of hearsay than what the actual issue is. The judiciary has often tried to bring on a check on such practices but is silenced as the defense seeked by the Media is the guaranteed Freedom of Speech and Expression under article 19(1)(a). The most recent update on the topic of regulation on the media was bought up by a Congress MP, Meenakshi Natarajan who introduced a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha which asked for amendments in the Media Regulation Act. This attempt was not taken sitting down by the Media Houses and the Press as it was perceived to be an attempt to curtail and control the press which they rendered unconstitutional. Jurists and Constitutional Law experts provided different views and takes on this issue and the attempt to introduce regulations was supported and also rejected. Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, Harish Salve while interviewed by the Indian Express, stated that the Freedom to express and speech is an inalienable right which cannot be restricted or controlled. Instead of introducing regulations, he expressed that the laws on the Contempt of Court should be strengthened and a fear of punishment should be inculcated among the people so that the mischief-mongers can be punished for publishing spurious matter and thus setting up an example for the rest of the Media fraternity that irresponsible and careless publications shall be punished and not tolerated. This view was given taking in reference the trials conducted by the media on cases and issues which are being decided by the Courts of authority and are still subjudice. For example, the media trial in the Jessica Lal Case, Priyadarshini Mattoo Murder case and now in the Aarushi Talwar Murder Case. The media here goes investigating in the cases, unveiling reports and investigations and in a way convicts a party before the conviction is proved in the Court of law. This, is what contempt of court is as the process of delivery of justice is being tampered with. It is a direct question on the authority and prestige of the Court of Law. In this process not only is there contempt of court but also that a person’s reputation is spoiled. In our legal system, a person is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

On the other hand, people from the Press which is also now considered to be the fourth pillar of a democracy apart from the legislature, executive and judiciary, have expressed great concern over the attempt to regulate the functioning of the press and the media. There has been continued harping about the implied right to a free press in the Constitution and anything in violation happens to be nullified. The journalists and media professionals state that the government is seeking this Bill to be passed only because it is vary of the fact that a free press may unveil to the masses the disguised intentions and corrupt practices of government officials and it may result in the disbalance of the ruling party. It also asserts that the government is taking this step to save its ministers and officials of the bureaucracy from the eye of the press which may expose them in front of the masses. President of the Press Council of India, retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Markandey Katju[ii], makes a very strong point here that the need of the hour is responsible journalism. Journalism that knows its boundaries and within which it needs to function. He says that the media and the press need to be regulated and not controlled. The difference between regulation and control is that when something is regulated, freedom is still present, but when something is controlled the freedom is not present. He makes a very valid argument that while everyone is harping about the freedom guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a), why is the equally important 19 (2) being forgotten about which provides for the reasonable restrictions to all freedoms which are guaranteed under the IIIrd part of the Constitution of India. He also says that where all professions are under a regulatory body for instance, doctors are governed and regulated by the Medical Council of India which has the power and authority to cancel the licenses of irresponsible and careless medical practitioners, the profession of lawyers is regulated and governed by the Bar Council of India which can suspend and cancel their licenses on proof of irregular and spurious behavior, even when the Judges of the Apex Court can be impeached by a parliamentary motion, then how is it that the Press and Media houses and channels been given absolute freedoms to say and publish what they like irrespective of any restriction what so ever? A question well raised.

Head of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority and former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma expressed his view on this issue [iii] said that such attempts to set out boundaries for the media and news channels and the press are aimed at curbing the fundamental rights of the citizens. He stated that the media needs to regulate its own ideas, thoughts and actions. In one word, introspection needs to be done so as to maintain its credibility with the people of the country and in no ways should there be a government authority or a government appointed body to regulate the media. Instead of a regulatory measure being adopted, the government should facilitate a self-regulation mechanism by introducing a code of conduct for the media and work out methods for responsible journalism. An eminent American editor, Walter Lipmann quoted “ theory of free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in an instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion”.

In one simple  sentence Walter Lipmann got to the core of the obejective which is sought to be achieved by the guaranteed freedom in question. Not to be forgotten in this case is that WITH GREAT POWERS COME GREAT RESPONIBILITIES.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

[i] AIR 1950 SC 124

[ii] Indialawyers.wordpress.com; Media Laws

[iii]  Indian Express; 29th April 2012

raagyapzadu has not set their biography yet
Author's recent posts
Click to show 1 comment
at your own risk
By reading the comments you agree that they are the (often anonymous) personal views and opinions of readers, which may be biased and unreliable, and for which Legally India therefore has no liability. If you believe a comment is inappropriate, please click 'Report to LI' below the comment and we will review it as soon as practicable.