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THE ROLE OF FREE PRESS IN INDIAN DEMOCRACY

Author: Subhajit Samanta, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Bikash Bharati Law College (University of Calcutta)


INTRODUCTION

“The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so, an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.”

-Mahatma Gandhi


The freedom of speech and expression is the most important feature of a democratic country like India and free press is an essential pillar of democracy. Besides, it has a crucial role to build up the concept of speech and expression in India's democracy. There are various issues in the nation for press to report and focus on the education, employment, agriculture, economy, political, health care, crimes and government policies. It has a crucial role not merely to confer the information, however, also in shaping how a person view on government and what they think that may influence. The press may expose the loopholes in the democratic system and assists to make the government more accountable as well as remind the politicians regarding unfulfilled promises which is said during the elections and exposes corrupt candidates in front of people. It also informs and brings the truth in public domain for electing the right candidates to power. Though, the press has become more biased over the last few decades. According to World Press Freedom Index report India at 142nd rank in 2021. This report is seeing the significance of a free press for the proper functioning of democracy and if press is biased and corrupted then democracy would not existence in our country. This paper aims to evaluate on the aspect of free press and its role, significance and challenges in Indian democracy perspective.


The freedom of expression is a universal human right and free press is necessary to a democratic society. It is the right to circulate the opinions in print without censorship by the government. In a democratic nation the press is act as a bridge between the people and the government of the country. It is the fourth pillar of democracy which concerns for the freedom of speech and expression which was originated from the American Constitution. Generally, we may say that Freedom of the press is the freedom of communication and expression which is required for the development of our society.


Dr. Ambedkar said that we don’t want to give absolute rights to the press because it has two aspects. The right could be given to the first aspect of the press and not to the second aspect. The press is a right of expression. The Constitution of India in Article 19(1) (a) lays down that “All citizens shall have the right, to freedom of speech & expression and it includes the right to press also.”This concept has been warranted by the Supreme Court of India. In numerous judgments the Supreme Court has ruled that Freedom of the Press is contained in the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression in article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. The freedom of press means freedom from interference from authority which would have the effect of interference with the content and circulation of newspapers.[1]


SCOPE OF FREEDOM OF PRESS UNDER ARTICLE 19 (1) (A)

The Freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of the press.[2]Hence, the extent of freedom of the press under the Constitution of India is the same as the freedom of speech and expression conferred on individual citizens. Indian Constitution does not mention separately the right to freedom of the press. This right is implied in the right to freedom of speech and expression.[3]As such the provisions of the Constitution relating to the freedom of speech and expression are also applicable to the freedom of the press. Thus, whatever restrictions can be validly imposed on the right to freedom of speech can also be imposed on the freedom of the press. However recently in a petition asking the Hon'ble Supreme Court to lay down guidelines for ensuring that minors are not exposed to sexually oriented material which especially in the entertainments sections of certain newspapers as well as the court said that in the guise of shielding minors, adult population should not be restricted to reading or seeing what is fit for children. It is submitted that such wide observations may come in the of media guidelines issued by the Press Council of India or the 128ways National Human Rights Commission for reporting of crimes against or by children. These observations will have to the read down in the context of the court's observation that sufficient safeguards are available in legislation and 15 recommendations to make the Press Council of India stronger.[4]


The freedom of the press cannot be unrestricted and such unrestricted freedom would lead to disorder and anarchy and would harm our social and national interest.[5] In Express Newspaper v. Union of India case the court held that threatened demolition of Express building (i.e. building of a newspaper) constituted threat to freedom of the press. Sale and purchase of newspapers and advertisements therein are expressly exempted from taxes by the Constitution. However, in view of the ultimate connection of newsprint with freedom of the press and the tests for determining the vires of a statute taxing newsprint have to be different from the tests which usually adopted for testing the vires of other taxing statutes.[6]The ground for levy of custom duties on news prints due to writings in some of the newspapers are foolish and violative of article 19 of the Constitution of India, being outside the permissible limits of the Constitution. Besides, the argument that effect of the levy is minimal cannot be accepted when fundamental rights and freedoms are considered the Court would be cautious in accepting such an argument.[7]


SIGNIFICANCE OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

The democracy without independent and diverse of press is like a vehicle without wheels. However, it always commands an important role in a democratic nation like India and free press must be required to proper function of democracy due to the following reasons -

  • It is constructed an informed citizenry which helps a citizen to participate freely in a polity that the citizen would be properly informed and must have the right to participate freely in a society. Besides, it acts as a vital tool to promulgate such information to the citizens so that they are able to exercise freedom in their life.

  • The free press informs the government of public demands and requirements of sections of citizens as well as it improves the government exercising and assists on public policies that are guided by public welfare in the nation.

  • It raises the people voices and their opinion on governance and assists in building public consensus to bring about changes in the society.

  • It helps in exposing corruption which is occurring by any public and private agencies that directly involved in public life and Investigative journalism objectives on public authorities to act against such corrupted people.

  • It has power to hold and can influence the ideology of people as well as the nation. It assists the citizens to choose from various political ideologies and effectuate necessary ideological changes required in public policies.

  • It empowers the foundations of a democracy and democratic nation. It acts as an impetus for enhancing the democratic values as well as bringing accountability and transparency in the public bodies.

  • It also plays a crucial role in conferring voice to the marginalised. Moreover, the poor and vulnerable sections who are voiceless and they would be empowered when media allows them a platform to raise their concerns.


CHALLENGES BEFORE A PRESS IN INDIA

India has many lack of freedom of media houses which are control by large corporates, violence against journalists, paid and fake news etc. Besides, it accountability is going towards decline and it does not confer holistic and comprehensive view of issues regarding public interest. It has growingly been seen promoting certain political ideologies and disrespecting other ideologies. These are the following challenges before a free press in India such as –

Fake News It denotes any misinterpretation of information which is constituted by deliberately misinform or delude of its readers as well as It does influence people's views, shove political agenda, make confusion and disorder among with different communities. However, the paid news which is confined to registered in media houses and fake news is usually allocate on social media whose manipulation has been increased numerous in last few years in India. At present, India has a huge number of social media users in the world such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube etc. Due to fake news and rumours disseminate through social media which has been involved to various incidents of mob attacks and lynching in the nation.


Paid News- The paid news or paid content are those articles in newspapers, magazines and the electronic media which stipulate favourable perspectives for the institution that has paid for it. In past few decades, there is sudden growth in the number of news channels. Moreover, there is immoral nexus between media personalities, corporates and politicians which has shaped a framework where news is to be seen by many as a form of political advertisement. In the past time, where media were way out of social cause and not for profit and today hey are doing a business where profits are the main motive. Besides, the autonomy of editors/ journalists are diminished the reason behind is to emergence of contract policy and very poor wage levels of journalists have been taken part a key role in rising of the occurrences of paid news and it consequences are happening on the innocent readers which is including voters who beliefs on the such truthfulness of the news article which are perpetually coming across such paid news for promoting certain political parties or candidates.


Trial by Media - It is a phrase which popularly describes the effect of television and newspaper reportage on the reputation of a person by creating an extensive perception of guilt concern of any verdict in a court of law. During high-publicity of the court cases such as the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput case where the media are accused of provoking an atmosphere of public delirium which makes a fair trial, almost impossible. This conduct is not in line with the media ethics.


CONCLUSION

Press has been nominated as biased either by the rolling party or opposition partiesacross the world. At present, it ways out the conduct of varies significant in voice and tenor based upon the political climate whom they are reporting or interviewing and for the majority of people it is a general source of information. The press is necessary for a democratic country and its developments. The press is assisted in making public policy meaningful as well as raising the voices of people what they think. If press is committed with integrity in its job then democracy is to be bound to function more effectively in the nation. On the other side, if the press is corrupted, biased and promoting merely certain party or few special individuals then it would be very harmful consequences for the democracy. Though, the press ought to be focused on the its improvement time to time as well as tried to fulfil the aspirations of the public then democracy would be functioning effectively and nation will go towards progress and human development.

[1]Available at : https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/freedom-press-pillar-democracy/(last visited on 21.11.2021) [2]Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950, SC 124. [3]Express Newspapers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1986, SC 872. [4]Ajay Goswami v. Union of India, (2007) 1 SCC 143. [5]Supra Note 2. [6]Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India, AIR 1986, SC 515. [7]Prabha Dutta v. Union of India, AIR 1982, SC 6.