Freedom of Press

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    In Context

    • Recently, the Chief Justice of India stated that ‘Press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy’.

    Freedom of Press 

    • Meaning:
      • It is an absence of statutory and administrative control on dissemination of information, ideas, knowledge and thoughts.
    • The constitutional bearing of the Freedom of Press:
    • Freedom of Expression: 
      • Article 19 (a) of the Indian constitution guarantees to every citizen of India the Freedom of speech and expression.
      • It is a fundamental Right of the Indian Constitution.
    • Restriction on freedom:
      • However this Freedom under Article 19 is also not absolute. It faces certain restrictions under Article 19(2), which are as follows:
        • Matters related to in interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
    • Freedom of press:
      • 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 individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of expression was concerned.

    Significance of Press Freedom

    • Independence of Press:
      • The freedom of the press is an essential aspect to maintain the independence of the press. 
    • Voice of the voiceless:
      • This ensures the integrity of the press as it is often referred to as the voice of the voiceless, a connecting link between the all-powerful rulers and those who are being ruled.
      • The goal of the press is to bring to light any injustice faced by the people and highlights the malaise of the system. 
    • One of the four pillars of democracy:
      • It is meant to help the government find solutions to these problems, while strengthening the values of the democratic system of governance. 
      • For this very reason, the press is often referred to as one of the four pillars of a strong democracy and is the only aspect where the common citizen can directly participate in. 
        • The other three pillars are the Executive, Legislative, and the Judiciary – a gang of select few.
    • Debates, discussions & reforms:
      • The media sparks debates and discussion, which are the first step towards action. All societies inevitably become dormant, lethargic and immune to the problems that plague them. 
      • The media has always played and continues to play an important role in shaping the course of current events, and by extension, the course of history itself.
      • For example, 
        • In India, the media’s coverage of the rape of Jyoti, or Nirbhaya, by certain men in Delhi resulted in widespread protests and later, in reforms to criminal law
        • Even on a day-to-day basis, some news stories prompt questions and discussion in Parliament and in the legislative assemblies of states.
        • Recently, the #MeToo movement was sparked in part by the publication of stories concerning the accusations of sexual harassment against prominent figures in the film industry in the US. The #MeToo movement had cascading effects all across the world and was a watershed moment in history. 
    • Community-based journalism:
      • Local or community-based journalism has played an important role in encouraging social cohesion and political activism. 
      • Local journalism shines a bright light on local issues, people, and causes, which many times may not get covered by the media at the national-level. 
      • The emergence of social media enabled them to create their own space and come up with independent media platforms.
    • Relevance of the media during COVID:
      • The relevance of the media was best highlighted during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. 
      • Electronic, print and social media facilitated the State to disseminate relevant information to the general public at large even during the lockdown.

    Press Freedom Index & India’s performence

    • In the 2022 edition of the Press Freedom Index which is published by Reporters Without Borders, India ranked at the 150th position, eight positions lower than last year.
    • Reasons for Dip in India’s Ranking:
      • Political motivation: 
        • The report mentions that Indian authorities have targeted journalists and online critics in recent times driven by political motivation.
      • Wrongful prosecution: 
        • It also talked about journalists getting prosecuted under counterterrorism and sedition laws thereby cracking down on dissent.
      • Threats and violence: 
        • It is said that journalists have been threatened, harassed and abused by communal forces within the country.
      • Kashmir Issue: 
        • The situation in Kashmir remains “worrisome” and reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries.

    Challenges

    • Fake News:
      • As with every institution, journalism is facing its own challenges. Fake news poses a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the press in the current society. 
      • Across the globe, fake news has the capability to create tensions between communities by misleading people.
      • Media houses are expected to act cautiously while publishing news.
    • Legitimacy:
      • Another issue affecting the media is that of legitimacy. Media institutions need to ensure that their newsroom culture reflects the diverse news content they are producing. Otherwise, audiences may question their authenticity. 
    • Media trials:
      • A major issue that has percolated our system is trial by media. The presumption of innocence postulates that a person is presumed innocent until found guilty by a court of law. 
      • This is one of the core tenets of law and legal processes. However, there have been instances when the media has carried narratives that make a person guilty in the eyes of the public, even before the court finds them guilty. 

    Way ahead

    • Freedom of expression enables one to express one’s own voice 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.
      • There are disastrous effects of misinformation chaos including globalised and unregulated online information spaces that encourage fake news and propaganda. The state should have a robust regulatory framework for the same.
    • Freedom of the press is crucial to the functioning of a vibrant democracy hence the government should ensure its well-being.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy. Examine. Analyse the challenges faced by the Press in India. Suggest measures to overcome these challenges.