This article is written by Akshita Gupta, pursuing BBA LLB from Symbiosis Law School Noida. This article discusses the current challenges faced by the Indian media with respect to media laws and ethics.
The term “media” refers to “medium,” which refers to communication, or the way of expression. Not only does the media play an essential part in democracy, but it also entertains the public with cinema, music, dance, theatre, and other forms of entertainment. The media can be divided into three categories:
- Print media: Newspapers, books, press releases, pamphlets, magazines, etc.
- Electronic media: Films, radio, and television, etc.
- New age media: Films, web series, and music released via Over the Top (OTT) platforms, which can be accessed via the internet or other ways.
The fourth pillar of democracy takes satisfaction in being fair, neutral, and delivering the truth when media influence expands beyond human reach. Notwithstanding, as recent events demonstrate, the media is confronted with several challenges that jeopardize its very own function, including the current test of nationalism in the name of religion, hate crimes, and social evils; the media has played a devastating role, whether it is through the propagation of religious ideologies, poor reporting in sensitive cases, or investigative cowboy journalism that harkens back to the days of the old media.
Important media laws
From the British era, certain regulations have been enacted to regulate media activities and to protect the freedom of media. Certain important laws are as follows:
- First Press Regulation, 1799;
- Gagging Act,1857;
- Press and Regulations of Books Act,1867;
- Indian Press Act,1910;
- Vernacular Press Act,1878;
- Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act,1956;
- Parliamentary Proceedings Act,1956;
- Press Council Of India Act,1965;
- Delivery of Books and Newspapers Act, 1954;
- Prasar Bharati Act,1990.
Challenges faced by Indian media
Paid news is the unethical media law practice where the articles that are published under the print and electronic media are in the favor of the institutions that have paid for it. It is considered an advertisement without a tag. Further, it is a malpractice since it tends to deceive the citizens by not letting them know the actual facts of the case. Secondly, the payment modes used in this violates the tax and election spending laws. It is an issue during elections because the media has a direct influence on voters.
In the case of Smt Umlesh Yadav v Election Commission of India (2013), the Election Commission disqualified Smt. Umlesh Yadav, a sitting MLA from Uttar Pradesh, for three years under Section 10A of the Representation of People Act, 1951, after she failed to furnish a correct account of her expenses under Section 77 of the Act. She took the matter to the Allahabad High Court, which affirmed the ECI’s findings and barred her from running the office.
A situation in which a single corporate entity owns numerous types of media enterprises is known as cross- media ownership. Print, radio, television, movies, and online media sites are examples of the types of cross-media ownership. In our country, a monopoly in the sector of media ownership has had a severe impact on the quality of media freedom. This monopoly has not been scrutinized by the public and is also unregulated. The law must strike a balance between broadcast and distribution in order to prevent single-handed control and ownership of both. Another problem with this monopoly is the concentration of power in a single media entity in a given zone. Furthermore, there are no cross-media limits in the counter for print, television, or radio.
Regulations for the government-owned media
Both the government and the private sector own media organizations in India. Government-owned media, such as All India Radio, Doordarshan, the Directorate of Field Publicity, the Press Information Bureau, and others, play a critical role because the issues they handle are not widely covered by commercial media. Government-owned media can serve as an impartial filter for changing the public’s perception of government policies and their implementation, as well as a medium via which news regarding developmental projects is communicated to the general public.
Government-owned media, on the other hand, is not considered as sufficiently independent of the government. As a result, the reliability of the pro-government stories they produce may be questioned, especially if they solely describe official activities rather than making an impartial assessment of their efficacy. Furthermore, as compared to private media, there are concerns about the quality of such government media. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting organized an Expert Committee in January 2013 to assess Prasar Bharti’s institutional framework, including its relationship with the government. On January 24, 2014, the Expert Committee submitted its report, which included proposals for making Prasar Bharti administratively and financially independent of the government.
Media and individual privacy
The growth of media has unquestionably resulted in a decrease in an individual’s privacy. Although the right to privacy is not clearly defined in the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court concluded in Justice K S Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2017) that it is a basic right and is an integral aspect of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Though the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, permits the press to reveal facts of essential public interest, it frequently leads to an invasion of privacy. The right to privacy has been affirmed in the instance of Nira Radia tapes.
Trial by media and right of the accused
When a critical issue is brought before the court, there is an expected rise in interest among the public. Always on the lookout for exciting news, the media, including newspapers, television stations, and news websites, begin posting their own versions of events. It’s known as investigative journalism. “Media Trial” or “Trial by Media” refers to the impact of media coverage on an individual via newspapers and television in developing an impression of innocence or guilt before a court of law delivers its decision. Excessive media coverage of the accused or suspect prior to a court of law trial either incriminates a fair trial or characterizes the accused or suspect as the one who has unquestionably committed the crime; this amounts to undue interference with the “administration of justice,” necessitating contempt of court proceedings against the media. Unfortunately, the norms established to control journalism and journalism practices are insufficient to avoid the infringement of civil rights.
The Supreme Court declared in Saibal Kumar Gupta and Ors. v. B.K. Sen and Anr., 1961, that a newspaper intruding into a crime and conducting an independent investigation for which the accused or suspect has been apprehended and then publishing the results of that inquiry would be mischievous. This is deceptive because when one of the country’s regular tribunals is conducting a trial, a trial by newspapers must be outlawed. This is founded on the belief that a newspaper’s investigation tends to obstruct the process of justice, regardless of whether the investigation prejudices the accused or the prosecution.
Influence of media on the accused
- If the media has already painted a suspect or accused as guilty before the trial in court, there is a risk that the accused may be severely prejudiced.
- Even if a suspect or accused person is cleared by the Court after due process, the acquittal may not be beneficial in rehabilitating the accused’s reputation in society.
- Overstated and unfair media coverage, describing the defendant as guilty even while the verdict is still pending, amounts to improper influence over the “administration of justice,” necessitating a contempt of court action against the media.
Influence of media on judges
- Even judges are subject to criticism, which might be directed at their judicial conduct or their conduct in a purely personal capacity. However, it is a cause for concern when the criticism levelled against judges is unfounded or ill-informed, as this has the potential to erode public confidence in the court.
- A judge must defend himself against media pressure that can ‘unknowingly’ affect juries or judges, and judges, like all humans, are susceptible to such indirect pressures, at least subconsciously or unconsciously.
The Supreme Court declared in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Rajendra Jawanmal Gandhi, 1997, that a trial by electronic media, press or public agitation is contrary to the rule of law and might result in a miscarriage of justice.
Influence of media on the witness
- If the witness’ identity is disclosed, the witness may face pressure from the authorities as well as the accused or his associates.
- Early on, the witness wants to disengage and get out of the commotion as quickly as possible.
- The witness’s safety is a critical concern. This raises the question of whether a hostile witness’ evidence is admissible, as well as if the law should be changed to prevent witnesses from changing their claims.
The Law Commission of India’s 200th report, “Trial by Media: Free Speech and Fair Trial under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973,” elaborates on numerous aspects of the rights relating to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of fair trial, which was released in August 2006, under the chairmanship of Justice M. Jagannadha Rao.
Lack of diversity
Diversity and cultural inclusion in the media is a hot topic, and many people believe that representation is at an all-time high; nonetheless, there is still a long way to go, before individual differences are genuinely represented and accepted as the norm in the media.
A lot of studies and polls on the representation provided by news channels have been done in recent years by the Network of Women in Media India. They’ve arrived at a straightforward conclusion: upper-caste men are vastly overrepresented, whereas women and lower castes are underrepresented. According to research by the Network of Women in Media India, women made up only 13.7 percent of the panelists in prime-time news debates across 28 stations and 11 languages.
As journalists from around the country converged in New Delhi for the Media Rumble, the campaign ‘Who Tells our Stories Matters: Representation of marginalized caste groups in Indian Newsrooms’ was launched. The following are some of the report’s significant findings:
- Dalits and Adivasis account for less than 5% of all articles published in English newspapers. Hindi newspapers perform a little better, with roughly 10% of the market.
- People from the higher castes write about 72 percent of bylined pieces on news websites.
- Only 10 of the 972 items on the cover pages of the 12 periodicals under investigation are regarding caste concerns.
The lack of diversity in the news is concerning, as it contributes to a decline in overall news quality. When newsrooms are made up of only a few communities, they are unable to cover a wide range of subjects and provide the sorting platform that they are required to do so. Only 10 of the 972 cover pieces in publications throughout the study period were about caste discrimination, according to the Newslaundry analysis.
Due to a lack of diverse caste representation in the press, these concerns received little attention. Minorities are alienated by such under-representation, and their trust in the media is eroded. When people feel alienated, politicians may easily trash the media, as Trump did with his Fake News Media rhetoric.
The one-dimensional nature of news opinions is another key issue that occurs as a result of a lack of diversity on news channels. Because newsrooms are largely dominated by upper-caste males, reports regarding lower castes sometimes fail to investigate the complexities of the subject, instead of speaking in broad generalizations. Rather than informing and educating individuals, it forces archaic narratives and stereotypes on them.
The media as an institution begins to crumble in the absence of diversity. Instead of serving as the famous fourth pillar of democracy, it becomes a platform for a few privileged persons on the periphery. Newsrooms must address these diversity issues in order to function efficiently.
Defamation is a serious problem in journalism that needs to be resolved. The cases of phoney sting operations or media trials lend validity to claims of irresponsible journalism. Threats of legal action under defamation laws, which include punitive penalties, have a “chilling effect” on the publication of free and independent news pieces, putting undue pressure on journalists and publishing houses. Any changes to India’s defamation legislation must strike a balance between these two considerations. Civil defamation is currently dealt with under tort law, whereas criminal defamation is a crime under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.
In India, there is no special status for journalists when it comes to defamation laws. Although the press has the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, defamation is deemed a justification for a fair restriction of this right under Art. 19(2) of the Constitution. The decriminalization of defamation as it pertains to journalists has been demanded in the past by organizations such as the Editors’ Guild of India.
Publication and contempt of court
An ethical media is supposed to take into account the public’s trust in it, as well as the confidence and faith with which the common man/public blindly accepts the reality of the news it publishes. This necessitates the existence of dependable media. When reporting on a crime or any news related to it, responsible media should follow specific guidelines:
- Before the case is reported/published and viewed by all, the accuracy of the case must be maintained and confirmed.
- Any writing that is opinion-based, i.e. favouring or defaming any individual or party, must be avoided at all costs.
- The right to privacy must not be violated.
- When it comes to reporting judicial events, accuracy is crucial.
- It is forbidden to disseminate reports based on mere suspicion or personal judgment.
- Appreciation of a violent act must always be avoided.
- The heading should not be made to be sensational or provocative on purpose; it should be appropriate for the content printed beneath it.
- In the event of an error, a correction should be issued as soon as possible.
According to Section 2(b) of Contempt of Courts Act,1971, civil contempt is willful disobedience of a court’s judgment or decree or wilful breach of a court’s undertaking. As per the definition, there are two essentials to constitute civil contempt of the Court :
- Firstly, any disobedience to the judgments, orders, writs, decree, direct or any other process of a court or an undertaking given to the court.
- Secondly, disobedience must be willful, deliberate, and intentional.
No court, including a contempt court, has the authority to consider minor details or technicalities when determining fault with the conduct of the person against whom contempt proceeding is taken. If the order has been largely followed and a reasonable explanation has been given for the delay, the contempt charge will be dismissed because the breach was not willful and deliberate.
The publication of any matter that either scandalizes or lowers the authority of the court, or that such matter interferes or prejudices any judicial proceeding, interferes or obstructs the administration of justice in any way, is characterized as criminal contempt under Section 2(c) of Contempt of Courts Act,1971.
Social media and Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
The legislature enacted the Information Technology Act of 2000 to safeguard citizens from data privacy violations. This Act does not eliminate the risk of cybercrime, but it does lessen it. Section 66A of IT Act, 2000 stipulated three years imprisonment, if a social media remark causes “annoyance” or was considered “grossly insulting”. In March 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in the Shreya Singhal case, heard by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, that the provision was unclear and drafted arbitrarily. Irrespective of this Section being struck down completely, people are still accused under the same. As per PUCL, 745 cases of Section 66A of IT Act are still active and pending across 11 states of India. This act has made freedom of speech and expression difficult on social media. There has been a case where two professors have been arrested for posting a cartoon critiquing a politician. Two young girls from Maharashtra were arrested in another incident, one for writing a Facebook status about the catastrophic shut down of Mumbai due to the death of a popular politician, and the other for ‘liking’ the status post.
On the same hand, social media has frequently been used to incite ethnic and communal violence, such as in August 2012 when false rumours on the internet led to an evacuation of North-eastern migrants from South India. Despite the fact that the Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012 recommended the creation of a media regulating authority, it was never introduced. The Cyber Appellate Tribunal is competent under the current Act to deal with complaints under the Act, however, it is mostly limited to accusations of fraud and hacking.
The requirement of the hour is to revise the regulations in such a way that all lost grounds and failures can be effectively reinstituted. A number of outstanding bills, as well as the recommendation, must be passed as soon as possible. There must be a clear understanding of what issues will be addressed in the Press Council of India (PCI Act) laws and how they will be implemented efficiently. Furthermore, there must be a balance between freedom of expression and speech restrictions. Management and officials must ensure reporters’ and journalists’ freedom and protection so that they can cover the news without being influenced by political, governmental, or wealthy influential people and groups. The Press Council should develop ideas in collaboration with well-known journalism training institutes to ensure that journalists are well-versed in ethical practice. What remains now is for the government to put the Council’s recommendations and guidance into action, which has the potential to make a significant difference in the system’s correction.
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