Muskan Madaan, pursuing B.com LL.B. (Hons.) from Panjab University, Chandigarh
SUPPRESSION OF RIGHT TO PRESS: THE 2020 FACT CHECK
There significance lays in the fact that they have a major role within the formation of public opinion. The Media is considered to be a two sided weapon. An accountable media can lift the nation to heights by providing a sturdy support for its development and an unaccountable media can cause disarray in the society. The working of press is highly driven by the freedom of speech and expression ensured under article 19 of the constitution. Regardless of the wide interpretation of these freedoms, India as of 2019 stands on the 140th position on the global index when it comes to freedom of press. Although there is ample amount of freedom still present but that too has gone through evolution throughout time. The point to be noted here is that there is no direct mention or provision prescribed for the freedom of press. Further even if we assume that the right of speech and expression fulfils that duty then the India sedition and defamation laws are used in a way that it becomes a major obstacle in the working of the media. Its needs to be recognised that having an indirect law to govern an issue and then having other laws restricting the working the issue narrows down the scope of the topic which is the case in the right to press. Moreover it is a substantial fact that our media as well is also not completely perfect in its conduct and certain restrictions are indeed required for larger public welfare. Given the present day situation considering the freedom is not explicitly mentioned opens it for a lot of unjust changing restrictions thus a proper mandate can be a requirement for a much more efficient regulatory system.
There has been a lot of evolution within the right to press of our country and the interpretations given by various courts nowhere lacks within the article 19 but seeing the present cases. Taking about 2020 the issues have also revolutionized. The present day modern media encounter much different hurdles which pose a much greater threat to the democratic values of the country as compared to the any issue which has done in the past. With corporate supremacy and political propaganda on its peak in the present time the present adverse condition has proven to be highly violative of the press freedom. With the misuse of laws of sedition, defamation and censorship the media has become highly vulnerable. From journalist being killed and media houses being suppressed the problem has definitely widened within the last decade. The expression or thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government of the day should not be considered as sedition. The Law Commission has rightly said, “an expression of frustration over the state of affairs cannot be treated as sedition”. If the country is not open to positive criticism, there would be no difference between the pre- and post-Independence eras. But time and again the law of sedition is continuously misused to charge the journalist which further hampers their right to speech and expression. Further it is a non bail able offence and when the journalists are taken into custody, it is a moment of utmost harassment for them. This is being continuously being misused so as to suppress the public voices against the government. Within 2020 sedition has become a major obstacle and has proven to be a mockery of the law. A major increase has been seen within the sedition cases being filed against the journalists while the conviction rate remains less than 10%. Here the fact of they being acquitted after the trial is of little importance but greater emphasis needs to be paid to the issue that number of unjust arrests which are being made under sedition act as threat to the fundamental rights of the people.
Addressing the issue of censorship, Censorship and bans on movies and documentaries in
India is something which everyone is well aware of. The question here is not of
completely refuting these bans but is to question those “unwarranted bans”
which hinder the practice of free speech and expression. We might certainly
agree upon the fact that there need to be certain restrictions upon what has to
broadcasted on national level which in a way is for public good only. But
restricting the content basis of which comes from the society itself is not
something which can be categorically put into the ambits of “wise decisions”.
Rather all these decisions by the government give rise to backlashes as the on
a serious level not only hinder the expression rights of the people but also
barricades the people’s choices of what they want to view.
The Constitution of India guarantees to the citizens
the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. However unlike the
constitution of United States, the Indian Constitution empowers the state to
impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of this right.
The test of obscenity laid down in Ranjit Udeshi v.
State of Maharashtra is something which is still acceptable but many a times
government have imposed a ban of a given documentary by specifying the
reasoning of “public order”. The Censor Board is supposed to be a large expert
body carefully constituted to cater to the needs of different segments of the
society. Moreover, the procedure for grant of certificate of exhibition to a
film is quite elaborate. So its decisions must be given full weight. But the
role and position of the Board is confusing. The members are appointed and
virtually controlled by the Government. However, the irony is that the game is
not confined to only scrapping of movies by the Board. Even a positive nod by
the Board is not the final but depends on the Central Government, making
censorship a questionable issue.
Now defamation is something which is used as a weapon
to exploit the media houses by not only governments but also by big corporate
firms. They allegate these media houses of defamatory remarks on their
reputation and often ask for huge amounts in compensation. These also often
lead to arrests of various journalists if done against the government. The
point to be noted here is that there is a very thin line between doing
someone’s defamation and informing the government about the reality.
Circulation of factual information for the public good cannot amount to
defamation. Furthermore even if we assume that the news was fake or did not
comprise of 100% true facts, even then such compensatory amounts are not
justified as there were no malicious intentions involved. Time and again the
Indian courts have come in support of the freedom of expression and press but
it is through these charges only that a certain kind of fear and dominance is
created by the government. Such kind of treatment means nothing but oppression
of the press.
Conclusively in context of defamation the Bombay high court
very recently has on 14 February 2020 has said that media houses cannot be
slapped with defamation charges as they have the right to bring forward the
reality and the kind of malicious practices people are involved in but the
Indian media has still remained prone to suppression by the political leaders.
To sum it up, we may notice that the justice system of
the country has kept the right to press and expression at one of the supreme
pedestals. Even though the very law does not explicitly mentions the idea and
freedom of right to press but at various instances, the court of law through
its various and numerous interpretations has always made an effort to widen the
scope of the freedom. It through such steps only that the media of the country
still remains protected. What should be
kept in mind is that there are various other factors which act as an obstacle
between this freedom and some of these factors are also aided by the very law
of the country itself. Be it sedition, defamation or censorship in one way or
the other they do add up to the problem which in present day has become a big
problem. It’s totally understandable that certain amount of restriction is
necessary to maintain public order but the restriction shall prove to be
reasonable enough that too by the modern parameters as the end goal of any
democracy is to voice the opinions of its citizens and not to oppress it. So, a
more explicit law might be our call in the near future.