Polity

Freedom of the Press in India

Freedom of the Press in India
The Need for a Free Press
No democracy can function without the pillar of a free and fair press system. A free press stands as one of the great interpreters between the Government and the people. It also acts as an extremely powerful check on the three organs of the government- the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Freedom of press implies the absence of any kind of control and restrictions on the press. Hence, the press is free to print, publish and propagate its views freely without any kind of external interference. However, like all other freedoms, this freedom is also not absolute and there are present several well-known checks that limit the extent of this freedom and these limitations are imposed acknowledging public interest. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution deals with the issue of freedom of the press.

In order to preserve the democratic apparatus of any country, it is vital that people have the freedom to express their feelings and to make their views known to everyone. The press, which is probably the most powerful medium of mass communication in today’s world, should ideally be free to play its role in building a welfare state and to keep a constitutional check on the activities of the government. Denying this freedom to the press would cause the very rubric of democracy in a nation to break down. In such a case, the press can be controlled by governmental or private agencies which would then wield the absolute power of molding public opinion according to their needs. Such a country cannot function as a democracy.

Freedom of press comes with three essential elements- Freedom of access to all sources of information, Freedom of publication, and Freedom of circulation.

How is freedom of the press ensured in the Indian context?
Freedom of the press, as such, is not specifically mentioned in article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. This article only guarantees freedom of speech and expression with its respective limitations. In the Constituent Assembly Debates, it was made clear by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar- the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Assembly- that “no special mention of the freedom of press was necessary since the press and an individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of speech and expression was concerned”. The framers of the Indian Constitution, therefore, considered freedom of the press as an essential part of the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

The right to freedom of speech and expression brings with it the right to publish and circulate one’s views, opinions and other ideas with complete and utmost freedom by resorting to all available means of publication. The right to freedom of the press brings with it the right to propagate ideas and views and to publish and circulate them. Freedom of the press, however, is by no means absolute, just as the freedom of speech and expression is not. Public interest is safeguarded by article 19(1)(2) of the Indian Constitution which lays down certain reasonable limitations to the freedom of speech and expression in matters affecting- Sovereignty and integrity of the State, Security of the State, relations with foreign countries, Public order, Decency and morality, Contempt of court, Defamation and Incitement to an offence.

In the case of Romesh Thapar v/s State of Madras, Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri had observed that- “Freedom of speech & of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organization, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.” Thus, it is clear that jurists consider the Freedom of the Press to be within the purview of Freedom of Speech and Expression.

The issue of Freedom of the Press is all the more relevant in today’s political climate, according to constitutional experts. No part of the Indian Constitution specifically talks about this issue, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that Article 19 covers it. The limitations placed upon the Freedom of Speech and Expression have been a matter of many debates and controversies and have attracted a fair bit of scholarly attention, and the same limitations apply to the Freedom of the Press as well, which are also the subject of many heated debates.




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