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Freedom of Press - Article 19(1)(a)
To preserve the democratic way of life it is essential that people should have the freedom of express their feelings and to make their views known to the people at large. The press, a powerful medium of mass communication, should be free to play its role in building a strong viable society. Denial of freedom of the press to citizens would necessarily undermine the power to influence public opinion and be counter to democracy.
Freedom of press is not specifically mentioned in article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution and what is mentioned there is only freedom of speech and expression. In the Constituent Assembly Debates it was made clear by Dr. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, that no special mention of the freedom of press was necessary at all as the press and an an individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of expression was concerned.
The framers of the Indian constitution considered freedom of the press as an essential part of the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
In Romesh Thaper vs State of Madras and Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi, the Supreme Court took it for granted the fact that the freedom of the press was an essential part of the right to freedom of speech and expression. It was observed by Patanjali Sastri J. in Romesh Thaper that freedom of speech and expression included propagation of ideas, and that freedom was ensured by the freedom of circulation.
It is clear that the right to freedom of speech and expression carries with it the right to publish and circulate one’s ideast, opinions and other views with complete freedom and by resorting to all available means of publication. The right to freedom of the press includes the right to propagate ideas and views and to publish and circulate them. However, the freedom of the press is not absolute, just as the freedom of expression is not. Public Interest has to be safeguard by article 19(1)(2) which lays down reasonable limitations to the freedom of expression in matters affecting:
a. Sovereignty and integrity of the State
b. Security of the State
c. Friendly relations with foreign countries
d. Public order
e. Decency and morality
f. Contempt of court
h. Incitement to an offence
Freedom of Press Defined
It is an absence of statutory and administrative control on dissemination of information, ideas, knowledge and thoughts.
The freedom of the press and of expression is guarded by the First Amendment to the US Constitution which specifically lays down that this freedom be in no way abridge by the laws. It is not Indian Leaders were not aware of the US First Amendment or of Jefferson’s famous declaration when he said that “Were it left me to decide whether we should have a government without newspaper or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Jawahar Lal Nehru echoed similar views “I would rather have a completely free press, with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom, than a suppressed or regulated press.” Voltair once said, “I do not agree with a word you say but I defend to death your right to say it.”
Mrs. Gandhi has never had much faith in the press. Her misgivings about the press wee first expressed in her address to the International Press Institute Assembly in New Delhi on November 15, 1966, when she blamed the press for for giving wide publicity to student unrest in the country. She said, “How much liberty should the press have in country like India which is engaged in fighting a war against poverty, backwardness, superstition and ignorance.” Mrs. Gandhi would not suggest restrictions that might be imposed on the press but said that it was for the leading editions, and journalists of the country to decide. Nine years later when Mrs. Gandhi declared emergency action was taken against the press immediately and complete censorship was imposed.
Kuldip Nayar, a veteran journalist wrote to Mrs. Gandhi soon after she imposed the emergency, “if newspaper have criticized the government, it is largely because of its sluggish administration, slow progress in the economy field and the gap between promise and performance. My concept of a free press is to ferret out the truth and let the public know.”
To preserve the democratic way of life, it is essential that people should have the freedom to express their feelings to make their views known to the people at large. The press, a powerful media of mass communication should be free to play its role in building a strong viable society. Denial of the freedom of press to citizens would necessarily undermine the power to influence public opinion.
Besides the restrictions imposed on the press by the Constitution, there exists various other laws which further curtail press freedom and the right of the citizen to information as well as the right to freedom of speech and expression. They are all in force in the interest of public order of the sovereignity and security of the state.
Development of the Meaning of Freedom of Press
Historically, the origin of the concept of freedom of press took place in the England. From the earliest times, in the West, persecution for the expression of opinion even in matter relating to science or philosophy was restored to by both the Church and the State, to suppress alleged heresay, corruption of the youth or sedition. Such restraints, through licensing and censorship, came to be accentuated after the invention of printing towards the latter part of the 15th Century, and the appearance of newspaper in the 17th Century, - which demonstrated how powerful the press was as a medium of expression.
Shortly after their emergence, newspaper came to take up the cause of the Opposition against monarchical absolutism, which in turn, led to different methods of suppression. It is in protest against such governmental interference that freedom of the Press was built up in England. Opposition to governmental interference, which had been brewing on for some time, was supported by logical arguments by Milton in his Areopagitica (1644), for instance, that free men must have the ‘liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties’. Any for of censorship was intolerable, whether imposed by a royal decree or by legislation.
In fact, Milton’s Areopagitica was a protest addressed to the Long Parliament which had taken up licensing, after the abolition of the Star Chamber. It was as a result of such agition that the Licensing Act of 1662 was eventually refused to be renewed by the House of Commons, in 1694, though the reasons given were technical.
The history of Freedom of Press, in England, is thus a triumph of the people against the power of the licensor.
Since there is no written Constitution nor any guarantee of fundamental right in England, the concept of freedom of press, like the wider concept of freedom of expression, has been basically negative.
In other words, freedom of press, in England, means the right to print and publish anything which is not prohibited by law or made an offence, such as sedition, contempt of court, obscenity, defamation, blasphemy.
Status of Freedom of Press in India
In Romesh Thapar v/s State of Madras, Patanjali Shastri,CJ, observed that “Freedom of speech & of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organization, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.” In this case, entry and circulation of the English journal “Cross Road”, printed and published in Bombay, was banned by the Government of Madras. The same was held to be violative of the freedom of speech and expression, as “without liberty of circulation, publication would be of little value”.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed in Union of India v/s Association for Democratic Reforms, “One-sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions”. In Indian Express Newspapers v/s Union of India, it has been held that the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. The courts have duty to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that abridge that freedom. Freedom of press has three essential elements. They are:
1. Freedom of access to all sources of information,
2. Freedom of publication, and
3. Freedom of circulation.
There are many instances when the freedom of press has been suppressed by the legislature. In Sakal Papers v/s Union of India, the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960, which fixed the number of pages and size which a newspaper could publish at a price was held to be violative of freedom of press and not a reasonable restriction under the Article 19(2). Similarly, in Bennett Coleman and Co. v/s Union of India, the validity of the Newsprint Control Order, which fixed the maximum number of pages, was struck down by the Court holding it to be violative of provision of Article 19(1)(a) and not to be reasonable restriction under Article 19(2). The Court also rejected the plea of the Government that it would help small newspapers to grow.
Freedom of Press in India: Constitutional Perspective
In India before Independence, there was no constitutional or statutory guarantee of freedom of an individual or media/press. At most, some common law freedom could be claimed by the press, as observed by the Privy Council in Channing Arnold v. King Emperor.
“The freedom of the journalist is an ordinary part of the freedom of the subject and to whatever length, the subject in general may go, so also may the journalist, but apart from statute law his privilege is no other and no higher. The range of his assertions, his criticisms or his comments is as wide as, and no wider than that of any other subject.”
With object and views, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution ensures to all citizens inter alia, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. The constitutional significance of the freedom of speech consists in the Preamble of Constitution and is transformed as fundamental and human right in Article 19(1)(a) as “freedom of speech and expression.
For achieving the main objects, freedom of the press has been included as part of freedom of speech and expression which is a universally recognized right adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization on 10th December, 1948. The heart of the declaration contained in Article 19 says as follows:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The same view of freedom of holding opinions without interference has been taken by the Supreme Court in Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms in which the Court has observed as follows: (SCC p. 317, para 38)
“One-sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. … Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions.”
In India, freedom of press is implied from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Article 19(1)(a) says that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. But this right is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed on the expression of this right for certain purposes under Article 19(2).
Keeping this view in mind Venkataramiah, J. of the Supreme Court of India in Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India has stated:
“In today’s free world freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. The press has now assumed the role of the public educator making formal and non-formal education possible in a large scale particularly in the developing world, where television and other kinds of modern communication are not still available for all sections of society. The purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate [Government] cannot make responsible judgments. Newspapers being purveyors of news and views having a bearing on public administration very often carry material which would not be palatable to Governments and other authorities.”
The above statement of the Supreme Court illustrates that the freedom of press is essential for the proper functioning of the democratic process. Democracy means Government of the people, by the people and for the people; it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his right of making a choice, free and general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential. This explains the constitutional viewpoint of the freedom of press in India.
The fundamental principle which was involved in freedom of press is the “people’s right to know”. It therefore received a generous support from all those who believe in the free flow of the information and participation of the people in the administration; it is the primary duty of all national courts to uphold this freedom and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with this freedom, are contrary to the constitutional mandate.
Therefore, in view of the observations made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in various judgments and the views expressed by various jurists, it is crystal clear that the freedom of the press flows from the freedom of expression which is guaranteed to “all citizens” by Article 19(1)(a). Press stands on no higher footing than any other citizen and cannot claim any privilege (unless conferred specifically by law), as such, as distinct from those of any other citizen. The press cannot be subjected to any special restrictions which could not be imposed on any citizen of the country.
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 Art. 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.
The status of freedom of the press is the same as that of an ordinary citizen. The press cannot claim any immunity from taxation, is subject to the same laws regulating industrial relations, and press employees are subject to the same laws regulating industrial employment.
# Romesh Thaper vs State of Madras, A.I.R. 1950 SC 124
# Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi, A.I.R. 1950 SC 129; 1950 SCR 605
# Thayer, Legal Control of Press (1962), PP 5–7.
# Royal Proclamation, prohibits, licence and monopoly, decrees of the Star Chamber [see May, Constitutional History of England, Vol. II, Chap. IX: Keir, Constitutional History of Modern Britain (7th Edition), pp 115-16, 342; Thayer, Legal Control of the Press (1962), pp 8 et seq]
# Vide Macaulay, history of England (1872), Vol. IV, p 78.
# Vide Macaulay, history of England (1872), Vol. IV, p 78. Cf. Lovell v. Griffin, (1938) 303 US 444 (451)
# R v. Dean of St. Asaph, (1784) 3 TR 428
# A.I.R 1950 SC 124
# Romesh Thaper vs. Union of India, A.I.R. 1950 SC 124
# Union of India v/s Association for Democratic Reforms (2002) 5 SCR 294
# Indian Express Newspaper vs Union of India(1985)1SCC 641
# Sakal Papers vs Union of India, A.I.R. 1962 SC 305
# Bennett Coleman & Co. vs Union of India, A.I.R. 1973 SC 106; (1972) 2 SCC 788
# Arnold v King Emperor, AIR 1914 PC 116, 117.
# Union of Inda v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms, (2002) 5 SCC 294.
# Constitution of India
# Indian Express Newspapers (Bom.) P. Ltd v.. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641 at p 664 Para 32.
# Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248
# Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641