This article on ‘LAWS GOVERNING MEDIA FREEDOM IN INDIA‘ is written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.
One of the primary pillars of a democratic system is journalism or media. Journalism, also known as the “Fourth Pillar,” raises public awareness of democratic and social responsibilities. Journalists serve as society’s watchdogs. However, it is not completely free to do whatever it wants. Like any other profession, it is also governed by some laws. The media is regulated by the state, its institutions, and its citizens. The Indian Constitution is the source of all regulations governing the media in the country.
Some of the recent events have shown that media has faced several challenges that are not good for its very own function. During the elections, different political parties try to either limit the voice of the media or to make it work according to their whims and fancies by different ways like offering money, threatening journalist, etc. So there is a need for more rigid media laws that can provide the freedom to Media to publish or show whatever it wants to unless it is unlawful.
So in this paper, we are going to analyze the laws governing media freedom in India. We will take a look at the amount of freedom available to media and whether the state can intervene in it.
WHAT IS MEDIA FREEDOM?
Media is a channel or medium through which information, thoughts, and ideas are exchanged. Media popularly known as “PRESS” are the printed and electronic information carriers. The newspapers, magazines, television, radio, etc. are all examples of media.
Media freedom includes the freedom to various kinds and sources of information and communication that operate in a political and civil society. Media freedom is important for any democracy in the world. It is the most essential public opinion medium, pulsing the democratic form of government. And, as a result, media freedom is firmly established and safeguarded under India’s constitutional structure.
LAWS RELATED TO THE MEDIA FREEDOM IN INDIA
Media freedom in India is guaranteed by the constitution of India and various international rights including the UDHR. This right ensures the protection of fundamental rights and freedom available to individuals. This paper will analyze the constitutional provision guarantying the “freedom of speech and expression” in detail.
ARTICLE 19(1)(A) (CONSTITUTION OF INDIA)
Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution of India provides for the “freedom of speech and expression”. “Freedom of speech and expression” is a very important right to democracy. This right is available to all the citizens of the country and the media to derive its power from this article only. As a result, the media has the same right to publish, circulate or broadcast as any other person residing in the country. Even though no particular provision protecting media rights has been created, the courts have frequently held that media rights are inherent in the protection of “freedom of speech and expression”.
Article 19 (1) (a) has been repeatedly interpreted by the SC in the context of media freedom in India. Let’s take a look at some of these interpretations:
. Law cannot limit “Freedom of Speech and Expression”
The legislature can’t make laws that limit the “freedom of speech and expression” of media and restrict the circulation of information which narrows the scope of the propagation of information to the public.
In the landmark judgment, “Sakal Paper Pvt. Ltd. v Union of India, 1961” the newspaper act 1956 was in question. The SC held that “the newspaper act 1956” and the orders issued under this act in 1960 are voids because they restricted the “freedom of speech and expression” available under article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution. It also stated that the state can’t create laws that directly harm the paper’s circulation, as this would be a breach of “freedom of speech and expression”.
The SC judgment in this matter was apt according to the circumstance because no law can limit the freedom of speech and expression available under article 19 (1) (a) as it is a fundamental right.
. Newspapers have the freedom to choose their pages and circulation.
In the case, “Bennett Coleman v Union of India, 1972” the import policy of newsprint for the year 1972-73 was challenged based on the infringement of the fundamental right of “freedom of speech and expression” under article 19 (1) (a). The order set the page limit for the newspaper.
It was held by the SC that the restriction on the page limit of the newspaper not only leads to the economic viability of the printer but also infringes Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution. If the page limit is set in the newspaper then it would be difficult for the journalists to present their views adequately and it would hinder with the right to speech and expression. Therefore the judgment given by the SC was perfectly acceptable.
. Censorship of print media before publication is a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The imposition of censorship on a journal before its publication would be considered as a violation of Article 19 (1) (a). In the case of “Brij Bhushan”, the Supreme Court was asked to assess the legality of censorship.
. The government does not have a monopoly on electronic media, and every Indian citizen has the right to broadcast and rebroadcast to viewers/listeners via media.
In “minister of information and broadcasting V. cricket association of Bengal, 1995”, the question in front of the SC was whether the government has a monopoly on electronic media and the right to broadcast. The SC significantly expanded the scope of the “right to freedom of expression” It was noted that the Government doesn’t have a monopoly on electronic media and the Right to broadcast is available to the citizens via television and electronic media. The media should be kept independent of the government’s influence which was very well understood by the judges in this case.
. Right to advertisement is not excluding the “freedom of speech and expression”.
In the case, “Tata Press v Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, 1995” the telephone number list was published by the Tata press without seeking permission from the Nigam or Union of India. The UOI declared that the Tata press has no right to publish and circulate such a list of telephone numbers. This declaration of UOI was challenged in the SC.
The SC held that the “right to freedom of speech and expression” available under article 19 (1) (a) also includes the right to advertise. It also protects the rights of individuals to listen, recall and receive the advertised speech. Therefore Tata press can collect, publish and circulate that information and no one can restrict it from doing so.
. Does the freedom of the press include the right to obtain news and information?
In the case of “Prabhu Dutt v Union of India” the petitioner was a journalist who wanted to interview two prisoners but he was refused to do so by the jail authorities. The SC held that the rights available to the press or media are not absolute and can be restricted. It was held by the SC that the citizens are not bound by the law to give the information to the media. The citizens have the right that whether they want to give information to the media or not and no one can compel them to do so. This judgment protected the interests of citizens and was a necessary step in the legal world.
- The media and politics should not be mixed in democratic countries since it leads to the violation of “freedom of speech and expression”. When the politicians start intervening with the media it leads to the circulation of false information and also restricts the publication of truth that is not good for any democratic country. Hence politics should be kept away from the media.
- Proper legislation should be enacted by the parliament related to media freedom in India and the limit to which the state can intervene with media freedom. It would lead to better clarity in the country regarding media freedom.
The right to “freedom of speech and expression” is one of the most essential rights available to the media in the country. The freedom of speech and expression has a very wide scope and is interpreted by the SC repeatedly in the frame of reference of media freedom in India. We have seen in this paper that the SC has tried to protect the interest of the media and has limited the scope of interference by the government in the functioning of the media. This provides a better opportunity for the media to show the truth to the population of India.
Hence we can state that in today’s India media is acting independently and there is very limited scope in which the government can interfere with its functioning.
- Sakal Paper Pvt. Ltd. v Union of India 1962 AIR 305
- Bennett Coleman v Union of India, 1973 AIR 106
- Minister of information and broadcasting V. cricket association of Bengal, 1995 AIR 1236
- Tata Press v Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, 1995 AIR 2438
- Prabhu Dutt v Union of India, 1982 SCR (1)1184
- Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution.
- UDHR: https://www.humanrights.com/course/lesson/articles-19-25/read-article-19.html#:~:text=Everyone%20has%20the%20right%20to,media%20and%20regardless%20of%20frontiers.
 Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution.