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Trending: Call for Papers Volume 3 | Issue 2: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Introduction

 The world is experiencing a time which nobody could have ever wondered in their lives. The human population is facing the tremendous effects of pandemic every single day with skyrocketing active cases and deaths all around. The Covid-19 waves have not just impacted the regular lives of individuals, but also the legal dimensions of the nations. 

The media and other news providers have contended a crucial role in spreading information and data regarding COVID-19 and associated measures, consequence of which the consumption of news has drastically increased. At constant time, the pandemic has paved way to amplify the pre-existing challenges of expression and speech in the society. The success of efforts to contain and curb the disaster of the virus is basically enthusiasm about the access to correct, reliable and timely information by all the public authorities, medical and media people. A free open ended debate in this regard is crucial for the understanding of public so that they can form educated choices, limit rumours, recognise misinformation and foster solidarity  in measures taken to deal with the crisis[1].

Expression and media are an eminent pillars for the smooth functioning of a democracy. However, this very reality has been undermined in the recent year with regard to Covid-19 pandemic and the situation around. This sort of unprecedented crisis has eventually led to an intense social debate on various issues ranging from healthcare, medicine to economics, education and politics. In such situations, digital media, print and broadcast take an important position in the society, therefore, it is of utmost significance to provide these key workers i.e. journalists and media persons, a distinguishing power to collect  data  and publish all the relevant data and information, while working under the bracket of highest standards of ethics .However, this sort of lockdown has some obligatory restrictions on a large array of activities, extending additionally to the media i.e. the limitations on freedom to move that has resulted in making it tougher for journalists to do their duty of moving around and gathering information and measures to combat misinformation have impacted on what the media can publish[2].

The present situation of  pandemic has undoubtedly given a wide arena for censorship of speech and expression of the individuals by the government and concerned authorities. China’s battle against the Coronavirus eruption, that resulted in not solely China getting affected, but also the world paying a high worth for it is a significant issue[3].This study aims at analyzing the impact of covid-19 on the fundamental right of human beings that accounts for freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution.

Freedom of Expression

The constitution of India is the most prominent document of the nation. It is not just the document that mentions the roles of Executive, legislature and judiciary But also basic documents that set the right obligations freedom available to the citizens of India.These rights and privileges were considered as inalienable Provision for a human life by the constitution makers, therefore, article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India specifies that, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. However, article 19(2) expressly states that, “ Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.

 After reading both the provisions in a combined manner, the results are such each one of the voters of the state are entitled to the very crucial freedom of speech and expression however solely to the extent that it doesn’t violate the restrictions that are set down on the same freedom[4].The above mentioned freedom is vastly vital and therefore the same is discovered considering that media that has been considered the “Fourth Pillar of Democracy” has in much sense been equipped with this very freedom that even major sorts of media , such as electronic and print media have evolved as a culture of social media by being surrounded with these freedoms while also acting their duty[5].

Information and its Access in the times of Covid-19

During such times of pandemic prevailing all over the World, access to general and pandemic related information becomes very crucial. To meet the demand for checking the veracity of  information, governments in most member states hold regular press conferences. Governments additionally created websites that provided recorded data  of infection rates, the quantity of tests conducted and fatalities. This sort of record is a dynamic record which keeps on changing from time to time. Such conferences are a great way to telecast the actual and verified information, however, in some countries, these conferences have used it in a negative manner using them as opportunities to create announcements but at the same time not giving full scope to the journalists and media people an opportunity to question the data and information posted or the steps taken as a measure by the authorities. For example, in Hungary, Spain and Serbia, journalists have recorded the complains that they had to submit questions well in advance and were reviewed by the government and then were pre- selected.

Some countries objected to the publication of any data or information related to COVID-19 from non verified sources. For example- In Armenia there were regulations implemented threatening a €1,000 fine if there was any publication from any non official sources[6].

Restrictions on Fake News: Medium of Panic

Several countries in the current situation have faced the concern of panic and related anxiety among the individuals as a result of circulation of “fake news” or mis-information.In the year of February 2020, World Health Organisation announced that this pandemic was also accompanied by an “infodemic” of mis- information that had the potential to mislead people and create a scope of risk to public action and health.A prominent question raised here is “how” and “who” decides what is false or mis-information.It is argued that any sort of provisions implemented legally that impose restrictions and sanctions on right to freedom of expression should be “clear” and “foreseeable”. Moreover, due to the extreme times of emergency, it’s been stressed that  emergency situations bring an exceptions to freedom of expression by making it narrowly construed and subject to parliamentary control to make sure that the free flow of data is not too obstructed. More importantly, the restrictions of any sort on the fundamental right of freedom of expression or any circulation of information should be imposed only for the time it is essential for .Restrictions imposed throughout crisis things,  prompt government action which is needed to some extent, based on the limited information and are stressed to stop presumably devastating damage, ought to be reviewed frequently and in light of the evolving situation. This situation presents a question of whether or not these sanctions or restrictions that were implemented in the period of pandemic are consistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality or not.

It is extremely crucial to understand how the crisis has aggravated the already existing challenges to free expression and speech in society. Restrictions seem to have been implemented in those states where this freedom of speech was declining day by day already. There are many nations that have witnessed a concerning variety of incidents of violence against these media journalists. Moreover, while on one hand, the demand for good quality news has somewhat increased, the flexibility of the media to exhibit the data has been supremely decreased. The financial and economic effects of the pandemic has meant a collapse of advertising and different financial gain, striking all media however particularly little and local outlets, a number of that are forced to close[7].

Conclusion

In order to push independent media and create an atmosphere that fosters analysis, reasoning, opinions over polarizing content coming to the surface , protecting the right of freedom of expression should be maintained. To ensure that our right to speak and express ourselves is protected in these hard times, the sole approach needed in this time is to create a link between freedom of free speech and expression (Article 19 (1)(a)) and the set restrictions under Article 19(2) so that preservation of civil liberties and rights of individuals is upheld[8].

 

 

BY- SWASTIKA SAXENA



[2]Peter Noorlander, COVID AND FREE SPEECH, https://rm.coe.int/covid-and-free-speech-en/1680a03f3a,(visited on 29th April,2021).

[4] A STUDY ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH & EXPRESSION WITH REFERENCE TO SOCIAL & ELECTRONIC MEDIA,http://dspace.hmlibrary.ac.in:8080/jspui/bitstream/123456789/1401/19/19-Synopsis.pdf , (visited on 29th April,2021).

[5] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Supra n 3.

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