The Constitution of India is the paramount document reflecting the high spirits of the nation which forms the law of land. The fundamental rights are its essence and one of the fundamental rights securing the sanctity of democracy and relevance of public opinion is of utmost significance to this document i.e. freedom of speech and expression which also involves the freedom of press incorporated in Article 19(1)[i] of Indian Constitution
Freedom of Press as the part of Freedom of Speech and Expression
The nation stands on the four strong pillars of legislature, executive, judiciary and media. Media keeps a vigilant eye over other organs to ensure their smooth operation for the proper functioning of the nation. The media plays undeniably an important role and therefore the freedom of press was recognized as the fundamental right in the precedents as it is not expressly recognized in Article 19. Also, this freedom has been expanded and defined in series of cases:-
1. Case: Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras[iii]
Held: It is one of the first cases to declare the freedom of press as the fundamental right. Patanjali Sastri, J. observed in this case that the free political discussion is essential for the public education and proper functioning of government where freedom of press plays a significant role.
2. Case: Indian Express v. Union of India[iv]
Held: The freedom of press is essential for the democratic machinery.
Held: Fixing the size and the no. of pages of newspapers is a violation of the freedom of speech and expression of press. On one side where the freedom of press is of such significance, on the other hand, this freedom is misused by our media friends.
The Unbridled Freedom to Press
Nevertheless of the fact that the freedom of press is not absolute in sense that it is restricted by Article 19(2), the following discussion will focus on the failure of press in fulfilling their responsibilities and taking undue advantage of the freedom given to them which sometimes even go against Constitution of India.
Fading Trust in Press
The media is one of the most trustworthy institutions in the nation. However, this notion is defeated by the recent scam discovered where certain news networks of electronic media were accused of tampering with TRP statistics. This institution is in question due to fake news as well which is nowadays taken as the tool of setting the particular perspective in the minds of the general public. In other words, it is concealing of truth which is totally against the prime duty of media to unveil the truth.
Media assuming the role of Judiciary
Various courts have been established in the country in order to adjudicate on the matters by resolving the disputes and serving justice. It is also the well-known fact that the work of media is to secure justice for the people by raising the issues in their capacity on electronic and print platforms but the problem arises when it assumes the role of the judiciary and conducts media trials. Recent case of Sushant Singh Rajput Suicide was the sheer display of media trial. It does not only leads to the intervention in the functions of the judiciary but also has an adversary impact on investigation procedure.
Media supporting Politicians
The Preamble of Constitution incorporates the words such as ‘Socialist’, ‘Secular’ which indicates to the beautiful country where all the people from different religions and castes would be living together and indeed this fact is true as well but the problem arises when the issues are given the communal and religious colour by the media. The simple issues which must have been settled in past merely on facts and the logic had been repeatedly given the communal colour by the politicians and it is encouraged by the media as well. Why the media has to frame the headlines as ‘Dalit girl raped’ or ‘Brahmin girl murdered’ or ‘Muslim lynched’? Were they not humans? Here the functioning of the media comes in question and therefore the need is also felt to revisit the freedom given to this institution.
One of the most serious allegations that are put on media is supporting a particular political party or government. As highlighted before that the media is the institution that is actually like a watchdog of democracy and public opinions, therefore we can’t afford this institution to be biased or favoring someone. This is the point where media itself curtails its powers and freedom which is affecting the role of media as the sentry of the democracy. The above discussion clearly shows that Media has somewhat deviated from its role and is misusing the freedom given to it.
As people vested with rights are the important component of the civilized society, similarly the media is the important constituent of a democratic country. Today, this institution requires serious analysis which will help in redefining the role of the media. There is an urgent situation where we have to revisit the freedom given to press. It is true that the freedom of press is important but it is equally true that this freedom need to be restricted in order to mend the loopholes that are highlighted in the above discussion.
Thus, the press must be given freedom, even more than it possesses today, but the freedom has to be restricted in the sense that the institution of the Press should not become biased and must work in an ideal way for safeguarding the interests of the people and the democracy of the country.
[i] Article 19(1) of Constitution of India.
[ii] Article 19(2) of Constitution of India.
[iii] Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras AIR (1950) SC 124.
[iv] Indian Express v. Union of India (1985) 1 SCC 641.
[v] Sakal Papers Ltd. v. Union of India AIR 1962 SC 305.
[vi] Bennett Coleman and Co. v. Union of India AIR 1973 SC 106.