This article is written by Gautami Kamat, an intern at LawSikho.
In democratic societies, power emanates from the people. Laws in such a society have to be in conformity with the fundamental rights of people. Any law that infringes such a fundamental right is considered detrimental to society and is thereby struck down. Participation of people in the lawmaking process in democratic societies is of decisive importance particularly because it ensures transparency between lawmakers and people at large and also keeps infringement of fundamental rights in check.
Laws are made by the legislature. However, the lawmaking process has an added aspect i.e. the concept of ‘Judicial Review’ that confers upon the judiciary, the right to strike down any legislation that is ultra vires to the provisions of the Constitution of India. This facet of the lawmaking process enables the judiciary to take cognizance of laws that tend to violate constitutional provisions.
The word ‘media’ cumulatively refers to various means of communication. Media not only plays an eminent role in the dissemination of information but also assists the masses in expressing their views by employing debates and discussions so organized. Moreover, it is by far the greatest medium to exercise freedom of speech. Such pronounced importance of media in democracy has earned it the title of “the fourth estate.” Broadly speaking, media can be categorised as press media, broadcasting media, and internet media.
Mechanisms such as judicial review and public interest litigation (PIL) are often adopted in democracies to safeguard the violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. However, for the healthy functioning of a democracy, it is imperative that the media in such a society plays a dual role:
- Firstly, it should ensure the coverage of laws made by the legislature and undertake its scrutiny.
- Secondly, it should collect the general opinion of the public and bring it to the attention of the lawmaking authorities.
In the following article, the impact of media on the lawmaking process will be discussed by weighing the pros and cons of such influence and by observing instances when media coverage has resulted in new laws or amendments to existing laws. Further, freedom of the press and its legal status in India will also be briefly discussed.
Impact of media on the law-making process : a blessing
Media as a connecting link between the masses and the lawmakers
- Media plays a vital role in the lawmaking process in a democracy, especially by bringing new laws into scrutiny by engaging in deliberations and debates that amplify the fundamentals of such legislation, enabling the masses to interpret the law and form a conjecture.
- Media also engages in interactive measures whereby it attempts to infer the popular belief on a particular law.
- Consequently, lawmakers tend to use the media as a tool to assess the general opinion of the masses on any legislation.
Thus, one can often observe that the media forms a connecting link between the masses and the lawmakers, having an impact on the law-making process, directly or indirectly.
Which form of media has a greater influence on the opinions of people?
Not all the categories of media have a pronounced effect on the law-making process. For example, In India, statistics show that:
- Newspapers in the English language have significantly less readership as compared to newspapers in vernacular languages.
- Further, a section of society depends on broadcasting media i.e., television, radio, etc., for daily news consumption.
- Besides, with the advent of the internet, e-news portals and social media have become the contemporary means of communication and information consumption, owing to their efficiency in dispensing a wide range of information and ease of access that provides a larger platform to the masses to express and to be heard.
However, in recent times, digital media has had a greater influence on the opinions of people, thereby also being capable of having a significant impact on the lawmaking process.
How does the media impact the lawmaking process positively?
When a large number of people are primed by the media about a particular law, they deliberate on the law and form an informed opinion. When popular belief regards a particular law to be violative of fundamental rights, the people protest against it. Such protests expand when they get adequate media coverage, obliging the concerned authorities to reconsider or amend a particular law.
Media, thus, has adequate potential to persuade the authorities to change the course of the lawmaking process. Such ascendency of the media can be seen on numerous occasions:
- In the Nirbhaya Rape Case, public outrage against rape and public opinions about the then existing rape laws in the country were tremendously amplified by media, which led to pathbreaking amendments in the criminal law of India, specifically the provisions for rape under the Indian Penal Code.
- Similarly, in the case, Justice K. S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors, pressing concerns of the masses regarding privacy were made to be heard far and wide by the incessant media attention that it received, such that the State was compelled to acknowledge privacy concerns, which further paved the way for the judiciary to recognise ‘Right to Privacy’ as a Fundamental Right under Part III of the Constitution of India.
Media particularly succeeds in obliging the authorities by subjecting them to constant public scrutiny, which enhances their sense of responsibility, ensuring a judicious law-making process.
Impact of media on lawmaking process : a curse
As quoted by Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’, “In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.” So far, the impact of media on the lawmaking process can be seen as no less than a blessing. As long as the media resolves to provide legitimate and unbiased information to the public regarding laws and to amplify genuine public opinion, it will positively impact the lawmaking process.
This, however, does not negate the probability of the media running a piece of manipulative narrative about laws and the object that they sort to achieve by fanning misinformation or biased news to the extent that public opinion is mutilated and further amplified. This can have serious implications on the lawmaking process in a democratic society, impeding the lawmaking process.
Politically motivated media becomes a monstrous threat in such a scenario. The pressure created by the media arises from the information that it provides the masses with as well as the opinion of the masses that arises from such information. Politically biased media will delude the public and significantly alter its beliefs. Controlled media may become incompetent to provide adequate coverage of various laws made in the country. Such media will be ineffectual in persuading prompt action of lawmaking authorities.
Safeguarding freedom of the press
The makers of the Constitution of India were conscious of the importance of the right to freedom of speech and expression. Thus, a constitutional provision under Article 19 was made in order to safeguard this right. This provision also encapsulates freedom of the press.
We observe that ‘Freedom of Press’ has not been expressly mentioned under Article 19(1)(a). This is because, in the constituent assembly debates and deliberations, it was clearly established that the press’, as well as an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression, are equivalent. Thus, the need to expressly mention freedom of the press was not felt.
Primarily, freedom of speech has three important limbs. They are:
- Freedom of access to all sources of information,
- Freedom of publication,
- Freedom of circulation.
Abridging even one of these limbs would constitute a violation of Article 19(1)(a).
The judiciary has reiterated the importance of the freedom of the press in a democratic setup in multiple judgments:
- In Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India, it was held that the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery.
- In Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras, the entry and circulation of the English journal “Cross Road”, printed and published in Bombay, was banned by the Government of Madras. This was held to be violative of the freedom of speech and expression, as “without liberty of circulation, publication would be of little value.”
To preserve the democratic way of functioning of a society, it is essential that people should have a certain degree of freedom to express and propagate their beliefs, ideas, opinions, and thoughts. At the same time, people in such societies have the right to know, which constitutes the fundamental principle behind the freedom of the press. However, with freedom comes responsibility. This is when curtailing misuse by imposing reasonable restrictions becomes imperative.
As such, freedom of the press under Article 19(1)(a) is subject to the restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2). These restrictions keep the misuse of freedom of expression in check. However, there have been instances where the legislature sought to curtail the freedom of the press further by introducing other legislations.
- In the case Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. and Ors. v. Union of India, the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960 was declared violative of Article 19(1)(a) as it imposed a restriction on the number of pages and the size that a newspaper could publish for a particular price was fixed, which was held unreasonable.
Thus, we can conclude that only media that is free from unreasonable restrictions as well as from any element of coercion or bias can successfully influence public opinion which makes it an institution that can significantly affect the law-making process in a democracy.
Having discussed the influence of media on the lawmaking process, we can conclude that; whether such an impact is a blessing or a curse is determined by several factors such as ease of access to media, competency of media as well as freedom of media. However, in contemporary times, it is found that hardly a few laws get media coverage, while most of them make past media attention.
It is important that the coverage of the lawmaking process by the media should be significantly enlarged to provide information regarding the majority of the laws being made by the legislature. There is an urgent need to curb the menace of politically controlled media that resorts to spreading biased information regarding laws introduced or made, manipulating and often sabotaging public opinion to suit the interests of a particular party.
- V. N. Shukla’s Constitution of India, 13th Edition.
- The Media’s Role in Lawmaking: A Case Study Analysis Lotte Melenhorst.
- Dr Rusha Mudgal & Prof. (Dr.) Pooja Rana, Future of Print and E-Newspaper In India: A Critique, EPRA International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research (IJMR), 159-164 (2020).
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