Media- whether it be news media, movies, serials or print media- forms exist as one of the most integral parts in the daily lives of an ordinary individual of the 21st Century and plays an important role in the exercise of freedom and expression of an individual as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. For the ordinary citizens of the country, media creates a highly accessible platform to exchange ideas and knowledge with no constraint of time and place.
Even the national and international organizations regard to access to it as an important human right of an individual, regardless of the country or state in which he/ she is living. However, governments worldwide are increasingly gaining extreme and indiscriminate control over what can in the past few decades. They cannot be published or telecasted on various forms of media. It has increasingly been a target of the state authorities and governments around the world for limiting the expression of free speech and expressions of the citizens of their country.
What is media, and why it is important?
Media refers to the various sources of expression and propagation of thoughts and beliefs by ordinary citizens of the country. These are the various mediums through which an individual or an organization can bring forth and propagate his/ her idea to other individuals. The various forms of media ranging from Television Media like News Channels, Movies, and Serials to Online websites, Social Media, etc. They provide the individual with a source through which they can freely and without anyone\’s interference express their thought, feelings and ideas irrespective of any form of discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, gender, or place of origin throughout the world.
Media, thus, plays an important role in providing a platform for the exercise of the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression, which is protected under Article 19 of the Constitution. The existence of Such Freedom of Speech and the medium to exercise it, in turn, benefits the society as a whole, with new innovative and creative ideas being shared with the common people. It also helps in keeping a check on corrupt practices of the governments and state authorities by sharing and influencing the common people the information and news whenever the government and state authorities engage in such corrupt practices.
Right to Free Speech and Expression: A Fundamental Right
There lies no dispute in the fact that the right to freely disseminate information to the population at large forms an important and integral part of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 (1) of the constitution.
- Media and Free Speech
- Reasonable Restrictions on Free Speech
- Judiciary and Freedom of Speech and Expression
Why is Free Speech in Media Important?
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution specifically lays down that Right to Free Speech and Expression is a Fundamental Right granted to Indian Citizens regardless of any discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, gender, or place of origin.
Freedom of Speech and Expression can, in simple terms, be defined as the right of an individual to express his/ her thoughts, ideas and opinions through any medium desirable without any restriction as long as the restriction is not necessary to curb prospective violation of other\’s freedom of speech and expression.
Media and Freedom of Speech: Judicial Observations
The Judiciary has from time to time observed and emphasized the importance of Free Speech exercisable of the Media and Press so as to protect the democratic life of the people as Freedom of Speech also includes the propagation of one\’s own views and opinions through print, audio or visual media subject to reasonable restrictions enlisted under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, as well as various High Courts, have, from time to time, expressed various observations and opinions in relation to the Right to Free Speech and Expression as a part of the Fundamental Right of the citizens and the importance of such Freedom of Media in expressing as well as critical evaluation the working of the government.
In the leading case of Romesh Thapar v. the State of Madras, the Supreme Court expressly observed that the Freedom of Press and Media forms an intrinsic and very important part of Freedom of Speech and Expression.
In the case of Sakal Papers v. Union of India, the court even held Section 3 (1) of the Daily Newspaper Order of 1960 limiting the number of pages that can be published in newspapers holding it to be against the Freedom of Speech and Expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
In the case of Indian Express Newspaper v. Union of India, the court held that media and press play a key role in a democracy. The courts are endowed with the duty to uphold such entities\’ freedom of speech and expression. They are bound to invalidate all laws and actions that would violate or infringe such freedom.
In the case of Tata Press Limited v. MTNL, The Supreme Court even recognized that commercial advertisements through different forms of media is also a part of Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Constitution and can be restricted only within the reasonable restrictions as enlisted in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
In the case of Odyssey Communications Ltd. v. Lokvidayan Sanghatana, the Supreme Court observed that right of displaying films on a state-run channel like Doordarshan also came under the purview of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Constitution.
In the case of Kedar Nath Singh v. the State of Bihar, it was recognized by the Supreme Court that merely criticizing the government could not be considered as Sedition. Therefore, people are well within their rights to criticize the government as long as it comes within the reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
Why is media important in Protecting Freedom of Speech and Expression?
Media plays an important role in the actual exercise of the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression of the citizens in numerous ways, some of which are listed below:
Free Press act as a valuable informant to the ordinary public.
The most important role that the News Media, i.e. press, plays is to provide unbiased information about the current happenings of the nation as well as the world. The Print and Television Media, Online News Websites and Blogs act as a chief source of information for the ordinary public to keep themselves updated about the current happenings of their nation as well as the world as a whole. Without such a free exchange of information, the general public would not be completely aware of the present and suffer from bad decision-making.
String and Well Informed Voter Would Strengthen Democracy
By supporting a free flow of information as well as investigative journalism, the media plays an important role in bringing forth the corrupt practices of the society and government as a whole and making the voters aware before exercising their voting decisions. Furthermore, it also facilitates discussion among the general public on different political topics, expressing their opinions, and making informed choices while exercising their voting rights, thereby strengthening Democracy.
Independent Media can help politicians and State Authorities be held accountable.
Strong and Independent Media can help ensure transparency in the working of the government and help in finding as well as propagating the truth behind the misleading exaggerations by politicians. It helps reduce maladministration and also criticizes the government as and when the need arises, thereby keeping a check on corruption and maladministration and ensuring transparency and accountability of politicians and governments.
Issue of Marginalised, as well as Minorities, can be Brought Forth.
Many times, the voice and concerns of the minorities receive a setback at the hands of the majority and is silenced. However, free and independent media plays an important role in bringing forth such silenced issues of the minorities. It provides them with the required platform and thus an improved level of representation of their issues and concerns to the society as a whole, and at the same time puts pressure on governments to resolve them.
When can Freedom of Speech and Expression of the Media be restricted?
While Freedom of Speech and Expression as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution is much integral factor for the existence of a strong and independent media in the country, the existence of a certainly reasonable restriction on such freedom also becomes necessary so that such freedom is not used to violate freedom of other individuals as well as used against the peace and tranquillity of the nation.
Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution lays down the following.
Reasonable Restrictions on the free speech of the media or any other individual:
Security of the State
Freedom of Speech and Expression can be restricted if such speech poses a danger to the security and peacefulness of the nation. It is distinguished from Public order in terms of extreme danger to public order and peace and tranquillity in the nation. Along with the nation as a whole, a threat to any part of the nation also comes within its ambit.
Friendly Relationships with Foreign Nations
Added through the 1st constitutional Amendment, this restriction provides the government with the power to restrict the freedom of speech and expression when it could jeopardize friendly relationships with other nations.
It was also added through the 1st Constitutional Amendment. As per this restriction, a speech that poses a danger and threat to public safety, peace and tranquillity, in general, can be restricted by the government.
Decency and Morality
Freedom of Speech and Expression does not mean that the media can show and publish indecent and immoral items. However, the items published in various media have to be decent and moral, and indecent and immoral speech and expression can be restricted under this article.
Contempt of Court
The Judiciary of a country needs to be respected by the citizens of the country, and the orders and decisions given by the courts need to be compulsorily complied with. Therefore, as long as there is a valid court order and the respondents have the knowledge and capability to comply, wilfully disobeying such an order leads to contempt. A speech or expression violating the court\’s order can be restricted within the ambit of this article.
Defaming another person while exercising one\’s freedom of speech and expression cannot be tolerated at any instance. As such, restrictions on such freedom exist under this article.
Incitement to offence
Inciting another person in the name of exercising freedom of speech and expression is also restricted under this article. In the name of free speech, incitement of offence is both morally and legally incorrect and thus is restricted under this article.
Sovereignty and Integrity of Nation
The chief concern of an independent country is to maintain and preserve the unity and integrity of the nation. As such, free speech can be curbed and restricted to preserve such sovereignty and integrity under this article.
Does everybody have the right to speech?
The First Amendment introduced bold new ideas to the world: that government must not impose a state religion on the public or place undue restrictions on religious practice but must recognize the right of the people to believe and worship, or not, as their conscience dictates. This First Amendment scholar\’s overview makes clear the many aspects of our religious freedom, saying, \”That bold constitutional experiment in granting religious freedom to all remains in place, and in progress, in the United States.\”
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