FREEDOM OF PRESS & MEDIA: All the important cases and Landmark judgements : LAwcirca

FREEDOM OF PRESS & MEDIA: ALL THE IMPORTANT CASES AND LANDMARK JUDGEMENTS

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“Freedom of Press is an article of faith with us, sanctioned by our Constitution, validated by four decades of freedom and indispensable to our future as a Nation.”

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi

The soul of a democratic set up is its people and their inherent right to freely express their views and ideologies. Hence, India being the world’s largest democracy has enshrined in its constitution the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression1. This right encompasses the rights of the press or freedom of the press. The press is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy, as it is a potent check on the policies of the government, which are formulated with malafide intentions. The press also acts as a means for keeping the elected officials responsible to the people who are supposed to serve. The press not only brings to the notice of the society, the crimes, which otherwise would have gone unnoticed; but also plays a crucial role in initiating legal proceedings in such crimes, thereby ensuring justice. Here freedom of the press means the right or the liberty to print, publish, or paint without any interference from the state or any other public authority. But according to the principles of Jurisprudence, no right or freedom or liberty can exist absolutely without restrictions; hence freedom of the press is also demarcated by a number of restrictions. So here freedom of the press means the liberty to print, publish, or paint within the ambit of rational and reasonable restrictions.2 Presently this freedom is misused by huge media houses and even its enforcement has come into question by the recent steps taken in Kashmir.3

ARTICLE 19(1)(a) and Freedom of Press

Freedom of press has been incorporated in the constitution and hence this right can be invoked by the citizens of India. The constitution of India incorporates the freedom of press in two aspects, that is Preamble and Article 19(1)(a), Right to freedom of speech and expression.

The citizen is guaranteed the liberty of expression by way of Preamble of the Indian Constitution. It states that the citizen has the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship. The liberty of thought and expression includes the right of free press. The right to free press is impliedly included in the ambit of liberty of thought and expression.

The freedom of speech and expression means the right to freely express one’s convictions and opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode.4 

Romesh Thappar v State of Madras5,

In this case, Patanjali Sastri CJ observed: “Freedom of speech and of the press lay down the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular Government, is possible.”While drafting the Constitution of India the frames faced a dilemma that, whether to have separate legislation just like the first amendment of USA6, or to follow the English way, where freedom of press is included in freedom of speech and expression. In India, draftsmen decided not to have a separate law for freedom of the press, since the editors of the press or the manager are all citizens and therefore when they choose to write in the newspaper they are merely exercising their right of freedom of speech and expression and therefore no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the press at all. And therefore, the same is protected under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Further, in the case of Romesh Thappar7, Patanjali Sastri CJ pointed out that “the framers of the constitution may well have reflected, with Madison who was ‘the leading spirit in preparation of the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution’, that ‘it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.’”

Press is an essential component of a democratic set up, since through this the citizen is called upon to make political decisions, must be comprehensively informed, know the opinions of others, and be able to weigh them against each other. The press keeps this dialogue alive, it provides the information, adopts its own point of view, and thus works as a direction giving force to public debate. It stands as a permanent medium of communication and control between the people and their elected representatives in Parliament and government. 

Interpretation by the Judiciary

Press is considered the fourth organ in a democracy. Since freedom of expression includes the freedom to proliferate one’s own views as well as of others. It also includes communicating those views to others. Freedom of the Press, as interpreted by the judiciary in various cases, it includes the rights as mentioned below.

Re Daily Zemmedar8, (Printing and publication of news.)

It was stated by the judiciary that the printing and publication of the news was the essential right of the press. Further, it was also stated by the court that it is the right of the press to print the facts of contemporary history.

 Brij Bhushan v State of Delhi9

Pre-censorship on publication of any news or views, unless justified under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India, 1950, violates freedom of speech and expression. The court struck down the order issued under Section 7(1)(c), East Punjab Safety Act, 1950, directing the editor and publisher of a newspaper to submit scrutiny in duplicate before publication. The court rejected the imposition of pre-censorship as a restriction on the liberty of the press. 

Virendra v State of Punjab10,

Further, in this case,  the apex court upheld that pre-publication ban even under a court injunction can be justified in the interest of justice only when there is clear and imminent danger to the administration of fair justice and not otherwise.

Sharma v. Srikrishna11 

Further, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held in this case that printing of views not only includes the editors or authors views but also the views of any other people who have printed the views under the directions of the editor, author or the publisher.

The right to free press not only includes to publish views but it also includes to dispense and circulate those views in the entire society as was decided in RomeshThappar, v. State of Madras12. The freedom of press is infringed not only by a direct ban on the circulation of a publication, but also an action of the government which would adversely affect the circulation of the paper.

 Sankal Papers (P) Ltd. v Union of India13

In this case, the apex court while striking off the Government’s order to the newspaper agency to either increase the price or decrease the number of pages, held that the right of freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of placing restrictions on the business activities of a citizen. 

Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India14,

In this case, it was reiterated  that freedom of speech and expression is not only in the volume of circulation but also in the volume of news and views. 

Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India15

The Supreme Court emphasized the importance of freedom of the press in these words: “The expression freedom of the press has not been used in Article 19 but it is comprehended within Article 19(1)(a). The expression means freedom from interference from an authority, which would have the effect of interference with the content and circulation of newspapers. There cannot be any interference with that freedom in the name of public interest.”

Bennett Coleman v. State of Jammuand Kashmir16

Another dimension of the right to press includes the right to comment on public affairs as was stated by the Supreme Court in this case. This right to comment on public affairs includes the right to criticize people holding public post and also to criticize the public policies.

Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India17

In this case, the Supreme Court has held that an advertisement is no doubt a form of speech and expression of ideas. In the present case, the advertisement was held to be dealing with commerce or trade and not for propagating ideas. Advertisement of prohibited drugs would thus not fall within the scope of Article 19(1)(a).

The freedom of press includes the freedom of employment or non-employment of the necessary means of exercising this right, such as freedom of employment in the editorial force of a newspaper and also freedom from a measure intended or calculated to undermine the independence of the press driving it to seek government aid.

Tata Press case18, 

Commercial Advertisements were at a time considered outside the scope of freedom of speech and expression. However, after that it was acknowledged by the Supreme Court that even advertisements were covered under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Demonstrations being visible representations of the ideas are also protected under Article 19(1)(a), provided they are not violent and disorderly. But a strike is not included in the ambit of freedom of speech. The court has rather held that a citizen has the right to be protected from a bandh.

S Rangarajan v P Jagjivanram19

Dramatic performance is a form of speech and expression. The constitutionality of films as a media of expression has been upheld in various cases. In this case, wherein the apex court struck down the order of the Hon’ble Madras High Court to put a ban on a film since there would be protests by the public on such release of the film.

 Prakash Jha Productions v Union of India20

The apex court observed that it is the duty of the state to protect the freedom of speech and expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the state. The same position was reiterated in the case.

Conclusion

The heart and soul of a democratic set up are its people. And for people, the most fundamental right is freedom of speech and expression. This right has a wide ambit as interpreted by the judiciary in the country and thereby covering the freedom of press. The press is regarded as the fourth pillar in a democracy. It acts as an important link between the government and its people. Therefore, Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution covers freedom of press and such right has been interpreted by the judiciary in an extensive manner and at the same time the legislation also imposes restrictions on such rights.

ENDNOTES

1.       Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India, 1950

2.       Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India, 1950

3.       During and aftermath of abrogation of Article 370 (Special Status to Jammu and Kashmir) of the Constitution of India, 1950

4.       V.N. Shukla’s Constitution of India, 13th Edition, page 136

5.       AIR 1950 SC 124: 1950 SCR 594

6.       The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition

7.       AIR 1950 SC 124: 1950 SCR 594

8.       AIR 1947 Lah 340

9.       AIR 1950 SC 129

10.   AIR 1957 SC 896

11.   AIR 1959 SC 395

12.   AIR 1950 SC 124: 1950 SCR 594

13.   AIR 1962 SC 305

14.   (1972) 2 SCC 788

15.   (1985) 1 SCC 641

16.   (1975) Cr LJ 211

17.   AIR 1960 SC 554

18.   Tata Press Ltd. v MTNL, (1995) 5 SCC 139

19.   (1989) 2 SCC 574

20.   (2011) 8 SCC 372


Tanvi spare: Lawcirca

Tanvi Sapra

Authors

Tanvi hails from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies and spends most of her time reading and researching. Her Interest areas are Property Law, Human Rights Law and Constitutional Law. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach us at editor@lawcirca.com

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