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This article is written by Vidisha Verma

Introduction 

“Knowledge makes the man, they say”. The concept behind this age-old saying is that without intelligence, human beings will be no better than unintelligent animals. Journalists, historians and scholars – individuals who are credited with giving knowledge to humanity. They involve journalists who provide us with our full knowledge of current affairs and events around the world. With the boom in information and communications technology over the last two decades, the world of media has changed drastically. Today, Mass media provides 24-hour news and updates us daily with news and information from even the most distant areas of the world. In a country like India, Indian media, a powerful entity, has been defined as the “Fourth Pillar of Democracy”. Being one of the pillars of India’s democratic nation, Indian media has a huge responsibility to make the nation because it affects the political leanings of people and therefore enables them to make the right decision when choosing a government.  Media plays a crucial role in the democratic life of the country’s citizens as it keeps people informed about the socio-economic and political state of affairs. 

Role of Journalism in India

  • The role of journalism is primarily, the communication of news, information, updation and education. Take the situation with COVID-19, for instance, Journalists have provided periodic reports on the number of infected, deaths and rehabilitation to the audience
  • In the contemporary world, Indian media has become a critical tool in the name of power and politics to give “voice to the voiceless” and to expose the face of the truth; amidst growing corruption, hatred, and violence in the name of power and politics.
  • The media has a huge role in shaping and broadening the horizon of the perspective of the public as well as making them aware of the incidents happening in society on a daily basis.
  • Journalism also plays an important role in catalysing India’s development measures, national integration and the fight for justice.
  • It also acts as an interpreter for the general public by breaking down the information in the layman’s language for consumers to understand. Taking an example of the government presenting a budget. The benefits or threats posed by the new budget cannot be comprehended by a layman. It is the responsibility of the journalists and media to speak to the experts and present the benefits and disadvantages of the budget before the public.

For the most part, it serves to inform the public and create awareness. It is an open medium, meaning that the intended audience includes the entire community or the public. Journalism is therefore an essential component of a democratic society. 

Origin and Development of Press in India 

India has a long history of struggle for independence, including a multitude of problems. Press freedom in India has also experienced a saga of struggles against the authorities who have sought to censor information. Journalism in India has been incredible since its very conception.

Pre-Independence 

Modern Indian journalism started in Calcutta in 1780 with James Hickey’s publication of the Bengal Gazette in English. But Hickey’s career in journalism was minimal since he was arrested and detained in 1782 for publicly opposing the policies of the government and the East India Company. The birth of a free press had already started with more newspapers (such as The Bengal Journal, Calcutta Chronicle, Madras Courier, and Bombay Herald) coming up together with different regional language papers spreading awareness of different issues. Udant Martand, published in Bengal in 1826, became the first Hindi newspaper in India.

The colonial administration then enacted several acts in 1799, 1818 and 1823 to regulate the country’s press. The legislative variance during this time has been the Press Act of 1835, most famous as the Metcalfe Act, which implemented a more liberal media policy. This continued until the rebellion of 1857, when the troubled international administration, rattled by mutiny, adopted the Licensing Act. It allowed the colonial government to halt the publication and dissemination of any printed content. The Vernacular Press Act was one of India’s sternest press freedom laws. This act, passed by Lord Lytton, the then Viceroy, gave the government broad rights to censor reports and vernacular editorials in the newspaper. It was an attempt to deter criticism from the vernacular press of British policies.

The Press Act of 1910 hit Indian papers especially hard after that. It allowed the local government to assert a security fee for any ‘inflammatory content’ against the government. Almost 1,000 records were prosecuted under the Act. Further limitations were brought on by the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939. Despite the Press Emergency Act, the government requested stiffer censorship. The foreign news that was coming in was monitored and filtered.

Post-Independence

When India became free, there was no longer any antagonism between the government and the people, and the press was free to play a completely new role. In March 1947, the Press Enquiry Committee was formed to investigate press laws in the light of fundamental rights formulated by the Constituent Assembly.

The first Press Commission was established by Justice Rajadhyaksha in 1954. The establishment of the All India Press Council was a key recommendation of the Committee. It was officially constituted on 4 July 1966 as an independent, statutory, quasi-judicial body presided by Mr. J.R. Mudholkar, then Judge of the Supreme Court. It was a self-regulatory watchdog for the press, for the press and for the press. The Council, established pursuant to the 1965 Act, functioned until December 1975. The Act was repealed and scrapped by the Council during the Internal Emergency. The new legislation authorizing the establishment of the Council was introduced in 1978 and, in 1979, the organisation was renovated with the same aim of preserving the freedoms of the press and upholding and improving the principles and standards of the press in India.

Today, The Press Council of India is the formal body that exclusively deals with maintaining, improving the standards and freedom of the press in the country.

Press Council of India

It is a civil, quasi-judicial body that acts as a press watchdog. It arbitrates allegations against and by the press on grounds of infringement of ethics and infringement of press freedom. The position of the Council is currently regulated by the 1978 Act of the Press Council.

Composition: A chairman and 28 other members make up the PCI. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member chosen by the PCI shall elect the Chairman.

Functions

  1. Helping journals maintain their independence.
  2. Creates a code of conduct for journalists and news agencies.
  3. Support to uphold “high standards of public taste” and foster accountability among citizens.
  4. Review developments likely to limit flow of news.

Powers

  1. The PCI has the authority to accept complaints from an editor, or journalists regarding violation of journalistic integrity or professional misconduct.
  2. The PCI is responsible for enquiring into complaints received.
  3. It can summon witnesses and take testimony under oath, order copies of public documents and records to be submitted, even issue alerts and notify the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalists.

Limitations on the powers of the PCI

  1. The PCI has restricted powers of enforcing the guidelines issued. For the breach of rules and duties, it cannot penalize newspapers, news outlet, editors and journalists.
  2. The PCI only overviews the working of print media. In other words, the guidelines should be applied on newspapers, journals, magazine and other distinct print media.
  3. It does not have the power to review the functioning of the electronic media like radio, television and internet media.

Status of Media Freedom in India

In 2021, India’s press freedom ranked 142 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) countries, an international non-governmental organization dedicated to safeguarding the right to freedom of information. However, the report also said, “there have been constant abuses and violations of freedom of the press, including police brutality against journalists, ambushes by political activists and reprisals by criminal gangs or corrupt local authorities”. We are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that impact its future. The coronavirus pandemic highlights the negative forces affecting the right to accurate information and is itself an exacerbating factor. This brings us to the section that, what will media freedom look like in the future. What is the legal status of the media and media freedom in India?

Legal Provisions

ARTICLE 19(1)(a) – FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION

Freedom of speech and expression is protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. This freedom includes the right to freely express one’s beliefs or views through speaking, writing, printing or otherwise. Freedom of speech and expression is the essence of democracy, because open and reasonable public debate and public education is detrimental to the effective functioning of the government of the people.

Further, Media freedom is central to an individual’s existence in a democratic society; it is one of the essential foundations of a free society and an instrument of social and political change. The Indian Constitution, however, does not expressly use the word ‘freedom of the press’. However, freedom of expression certainly includes the freedom to spread the ideas guaranteed by the freedom to publish and to transmit all the essential aspects of press freedom. Press editors and administrators are all people, and they exercise their right to express themselves as they write in newspapers.

This was established in the case of Romesh Thapar v State of Madras. In this case, the Government of Madras prohibited the entry and circulation of the English newspaper “Cross Road,” which was printed and published in Bombay because the petitioner expressed his scepticism regarding the then government. The petitioner, Mr. Thappar then filed a case in SC for his violation of right to freedom of speech and expression. The apex court then held that, the expression “freedom of press” has not been used in Article 19 but it is comprehended within Article 19(1)(a). The expression means freedom from interference from authority which would have the effect of interference with the content and circulation of newspapers. It is the primary duty of the courts to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with it contrary to the constitutional mandate.

Therefore, it is now an existing law in India that freedom of the press also requires the right to freedom of speech and expression. Media freedom can thus be used to mean the general functioning of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the different sectors of the media.

However, it does not grant an absolute right to speak or disseminate as one wishes without obligation, nor does it grant unlimited or unrestricted immunity to those who violate this privilege. The Indian Constitution in Article 19(2) attempts to strike a balance between individual liberty and state control and authorises the state to impose certain reasonable restrictions which are:

  1. Security of the State;
  2. Friendly relations with foreign States;
  3. Public order;
  4. Decency and morality;
  5. Contempt of court;
  6. Defamation;
  7. Incitement to an offence;
  8. Sovereignty and integrity of India.

Plight of journalism in Modern India

As stated earlier, the press is regarded to be one of the foundations of democracy, since it serves as the watchdog of the three political institutions. While freedom of speech and expression (including the freedom of the press) is enjoyed by people, there are several instances in which the press is often faced with difficulties. Journalism is not journalism unless the journalist has the right to think. India lags far behind in providing its journalists with an independent pen and a place to work fearlessly. Journalists are tied to their media houses, which bow down to certain political parties or those in power. At this time, it seems like no media outlet has the right to run neutrally and is forced to lean towards a political party. 

Journalists go through intolerable torture and sometimes end up meeting with death. Constant violations of press freedom have taken place, including abuses by government leaders, intimidation by criminal gangs, police brutality or threats by corrupt elected authorities. Journalism has become one of India’s most dangerous occupations to practice.

I will explain such instances further, through some of the prominent cases happened lately in India, which are:

  • Gauri Lankesh Murder Case;
  • Arnab Goswami Case;
  • Suspension of Internet Services in J&K.
  1. The Gauri Lankesh Murder Case 

Lankesh was a political activist, journalist and editor of the Kannada tabloid ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrik’. She was shot dead by unidentified attackers on Sept. 5, 2017 with the incident drawing national outrage and protests. At the time of her death, Gauri was known to be a critic of right-wing Hindu extremism. This case shook the collective conscience of the country.

 But the worst news is that Gauri Lankesh’s family is still awaiting her Speedy Trial for justice even after her third death anniversary. Her family, friends and the prosecution say they had a frustrating time convincing Karnataka’s state government to set up a special dedicated fast-track court in the case. And the situation, they say, was further worsened by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year. The administrative head of the court, responsible for the day-to-day administrative work of the court, along with many other trials under special acts, is also the judge appointed in this case. Thus, the judge is at most prepared to spend an hour or two in court for all his administrative work. He had to deal with many incidents during that period, one of which was the case of Lankesh. Once the principle of fairness and equality has been secured, Gauri will get justice. To hold a trial on a regular basis, all that was required now was a dedicated court. But it has not happened.

The murder of Lankesh was likened to the killings of three other rationalists, beginning with Narendra Dabholkar, member of the (MANS) Maharashtra Superstition Eradication Committee on 20 August 2013 in Pune, who was shot dead by some bikers when he was out on his morning walk. After Dabholkar, the chief of the Communist Party of India (CPI) Govind Pansare was assassinated on 16 February 2015 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra and Kalburgi, a rationalist, and a former Hampi University vice-chancellor in the state’s northwest Ballari district, was gunned down by two assailants on August 2015.

It is not just the case of Lankesh that the trial has been postponed. Although in Dabholkar and Pansare’s case, the investigation is still underway, and in Kalburgi’s case the trial is yet to commence.

In the larger picture the justice should be given at pace to the journalists as they are also the citizens of India and enjoys the same rights and these heinous crimes and tortures towards the journalists must be stopped. 

  1. The Arnab Goswami Case 

The arrest of Republic Media Network Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami recently in a two-year-old case of abetment to suicide is yet another instance of misuse of state power against journalists and curtailment of media freedom. 

Admittedly, the crime for which Goswami was arrested was significant and justified a sustained investigation in 2018, when Anvay Naik left a suicide note accusing Mr Goswami, Mr Feroz, Mr Nitesh Sharda and the Republic TV of not paying him his dues after he planned the channel’s interiors. Given the enthusiasm with which the Congress, a part of the ruling alliance, is officially circulating material relevant to the case points to political motivation in the treatment of the high-profile TV personality. 

The relevant issue in this context is how frivolous and frequent the state’s power to arrest is being misused, especially in the case of journalists. Goswami’s case clearly hit the headlines because of his status as a celebrity, as well as the support he has received from senior members of the Union Cabinet.

Goswami’s arrest is reprehensible not only for the political position of the police, but also for the greater threat and restriction of the freedom of the media.

Indeed, according to a study compiled by the Rights and Risk Analysis Group (RRAG) between March 25 and May 31, 2020, at least 55 journalists have been subjected to arrests, registration of FIRs, summons or announcements, physical assaults and threats to their reporting across the world. Criminal defamation suits are casually slapped on journalists by politicians in control for perceived insults that have had a chilling impact on the profession. The intimidation, detention and threat of indictment of journalists has become so normalized that it is not reported by individual police officers as a crime, let alone a crime against the practice of liberal democracy. The need of the hour is long-standing reforms and professionalization of the police force to save them from becoming the handmaid of their political bosses.

  1. Suspension Of Internet in Jammu And Kashmir

On August 5 2019, the central government had decided to revoke the erstwhile state’s special constitutional status granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and split the region into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. At that time, all channels of communication in Jammu and Kashmir had been barred by the Central Government. Services have been partly restored, with Internet speeds limited to 2G. Then the ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ filed a petition for the restoration of high-speed internet in Jammu and Kashmir. But the administration resisted the restoration of 4G services in the territories of the Union. It reasoned its move with a means of protecting the sovereignty, dignity and security of the country.

The government had set up a “Media Facilitation Centre” for journalists at a conference hall of a hotel. However, media persons have complained that it lacked enough computers and that they had to wait for several hours to work.

Several journalists from various media organizations then protested in Srinagar against the ongoing suspension of Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir for more than 100 days. The demonstrators called for the immediate restoration of the facilities so that they could fulfil their professional duties. The government has set up a media center to assist journalists in filing their stories, but journalists have been demanding the restoration of high-speed broadband for unhindered reporting.

The greatest disservice the government can do to freedom of the press is to limit the means of communication and the Internet. That’s exactly what had happened in J&K.

Hence, The risk factor in the journalism profession is increasingly growing. They face abuse and threats for exercising their constitutional rights. They include kidnapping, murder, online stalking, involuntary imprisonment and torture. Since they operate for the benefit of humanity, they must also be protected from crimes. Without the media, one cannot picture a profound democracy. There is need for effective laws for protection of media and journalists.

Responsibilities of Journalists

The media, along with any other field, should not harm the ethical and socio-cultural aspects of the economy, but should encourage them. By highlighting social evils such as corruption and discouraging other poor behaviour, this helps to maintain social harmony. Therefore, through developing and finding solutions, the aim of the media is to inform, document, analyse, interpret, mediate and mobilize. A journalist writes whatever he observes the society. He publishes whatever is consumed in society by citizens who might be made up of different races, sects, categories and characteristics Therefore, a journalist should be very cautious and aware of his duties in advertising it to the present sensible society when writing a report on any case. It must deliver such news as it serves a common function and fulfils the needs of major people as well. Any presentation or writing by a journalist should never have an effect on the beliefs, ideals, faith and practices of any part of any group of our society. Journalist writing should promote not only the maintenance of ‘social order’ but also, simultaneously, the achievement of social change.

There are three fundamental duties that are to be understood by every journalist. They are social, legal and professional.

Social Responsibilities – The press reflects our culture’s social representations or images. A journalist’s presentation can initiate an environment of understanding within society and should continue to do the same in a sustained way to retain it. Therefore, the expectations of common news audiences should be equal, balanced, truthful, motivating and satisfying every representation of every journalist. It is also intended to ensure that society is well-informed about events.

Legal Responsibilities – While working as a journalist, in order to avoid the development of problems and keep the company ‘disruptive’ in any way, one should be well acquainted with all legal issues. For this purpose, a journalist should not intervene or interfere with the privacy or confidentiality of an individual until such time when he or she is expected to be informed to the public. Defamation – Any libellous or defamatory presentation with someone, company or party is not appropriate and should be strictly stopped by the journalist. Libellous and defamatory writings or images can receive immediate reply with greater acceptance from the public, but it is not pertinent as well as not complying with the standard of professionalism.

Professional Responsibilities – The reporter must have honesty, dedication and integrity to his profession. It should be very transparent and faithful to detail the news of any case that is to be released to the public. In order to present the same to the audience in a confident and satisfactory manner, very good homework in this regard is mandatory for any event and should be done by the journalist. Above all, the presentation must be honest and impartial and will never add any embarrassment or complexity to the company in the future. To be sure, a journalist will need a high degree of integrity in delivering every output. A news article should be produced with greater care and accountability in order to sustain its quality level at a higher level by avoiding some kind of inclusion of an undesirable and offensive element or part of it. 

Conclusion

At last, it can be concluded that the freedom of the press is nowhere mentioned in the Indian Constitution. The Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is provided in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. It is believed that Freedom of Speech and Expression in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution include freedom of the press. Freedom of expression enables one to express one’s own voices as well as those of others. But freedom of the press must be subject to those restrictions which apply to the freedom of speech and expression. The restrictions mentioned in Article 19 are defamation, contempt of court, decency or morality, security of the state, friendly relations with other states, incitement to an offence, public order and maintenance of the sovereignty and integrity of India. While freedom of speech and expression (including the freedom of the press) is enjoyed by people, there are several instances in which the press is often faced with difficulties, which needs urgent attention. 


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