Mahatma Gandhi said that “The press is called the Fourth Estate. It is definitely a power but a misuse of power is criminal.” A free press is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy.
-> Clause (1) (a) of Article 19 of Indian Constitution states, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.”
-> However, the Indian news press enjoys the freedom to engage in the business of disseminating news to audience under the right to carry out any profession, occupation, trade, industry or business, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g).
-> Complications arise when Article 19(1) (a) and (g) are read to be one & the same and even the oversight and restrictions in the interest of the ‘general public’ contemplated under Article 19(6) are ignored because of this obfuscation.
-> For a proper functioning of democracy it is essential that citizens are kept informed about news so that they form rational opinions.
Role of Media:
-> Entities engaged in the business of news/media are a prime source of information, helping people to cultivate opinions on the political, economic and social situation in the country. Today, public opinion, especially of the youth, can be gauged through social networking platforms, so-called ‘new media’.
-> In this way, the media continues its role as a kind of non-formal educator, helping citizens to make judgments, often by presenting views which are contrary to those of the government.
-> Media exposes loopholes in the democratic system. A democracy without media is like a vehicle without wheels.
-> The role of media is like giving voice to the voiceless.
Government stand on Freedom of Media:
-> This vaunted position occupied by the media, including surveying the judiciary, executive and legislature alike, does not come without implicit responsibilities. Hence, the restrictions on the business of news/media under Article 19(6) deemed necessary to ensure an effective protection of the rights of common citizens under Article 19(1)(a).
-> Far from regulation of media by the government, the Indian media industry, at present, is a largely self-regulated consortium.
-> The informal nature of this self-regulatory mechanism only adds to the risk of an unregulated vital sector such as media falling prey to priorities and practices which could be contrary to public interest or as well be a threat to national security.
Concerns / Challenges:
-> Paid news and making “credibility” a casualty in the pursuit to sensationalise news.
-> Loss of professional ethics and credible journalism by focusing more in to Television Rating Point (TRP).
-> Freedom of the press is seen to block progress and to help businessmen make money. Also looked upon by its owners as a means of making money.
-> Freedom of press may divert attention of the Indian people from the real issues which are socio-economic, to non-real issues.
-> Corporate and political power has overwhelmed large sections of the media and distorting facts to further their interest.
-> Excessive coverage or hype of sensitive news has led to communal riots at times.
-> Attacks on journalists. Recent murder of Kannada journalist Gauri Lankesh.
-> News censorship. NDTV – which came under fire for its coverage of the Pathankot operation.
-> The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, puts restrictions on the media. To register its strong opposition ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ leaves its editorial blank.
Why freedom of press is necessary?
-> The necessity of a free press to democracy is incontrovertible and enshrined in law and constitution of India.
-> Press freedom promotes, and operates within, the rule of law which itself is often described as the cornerstone of a democratic society.
-> Freedom has many components and is rarely absolute or paramount in a democracy, because democracy may itself be thought of as a system for reconciling competing freedoms.
-> Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. It is the primary duty of the courts to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws or administrative actions, which interfere with it contrary to the constitutional mandate.
-> The need of the hour is a composite piece of legislation in the media business space, one that will protect the freedom of press under such law but will also prevent media sector from impinging on the freedoms and rights of citizens of India and acting against public interest or national security in any manner.
-> Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC) should be given more autonomy to implement laws and take necessary steps against any corruption.
-> Freedom of speech should not be misused for our own profit which can stir up tensions among the people.
-> Media houses must take extra effort to maintain credibility and use the editorial freedom wisely for public interest. Also media should take utmost care in airing or publishing sensational news.
-> Implementing the recommendations of TRAI with regard to media ownership and investment disclosure norms would help in maintaining transparency.
-> Need for political will in improving India’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index as they do towards the World Bank’s Doing Business Rankings. India not even in top 100. India slips from 133 to 136 in Press Freedom Index 2017 published by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres).
Media Regulation Bill: A much needed regulation
-> A draft bill on media regulation called the Maintenance Of Transparency and Code of Conduct and Prevention of Circulation, Publication or Broadcasting of Misleading Information by any Entity engaged in Circulation, Publication or Broadcasting of News (By any Medium) Bill, 2013.
-> By this bill an attempt was made to strike a balance between self regulation and a statutory oversight wherever and whenever such self regulation fails to protect the interests of the citizens of India, public interest and national security.
-> While endorsing and encouraging self regulation in the media space compulsorily, the bill suggests the establishment of an authority governed by a board comprising a retired high court judge and two members, i.e. a joint secretary and an eminent person. Most important of all, the bill suggests that no serving editors be on the board.
-> The bill provides the board with the power to take suo motu action as well as the power to impose a penalty for code of conduct violations as well as the violation of transparency disclosure norms, thus strengthening the existing self-regulatory mechanism.
In a modern democracy that abides by the rule of law, press freedom can never mean a press which sits outside, above and beyond, or in disregard of, the law. Respect for the law is the common framework within which the press, as an important commercial sector, is enabled to flourish, to preserve and enjoy its freedoms, and to make its unique contribution to a democratic society.
The rule of law also seeks to “guard the guardians‟ and self regulation in the media space needs to ensure that media entities are mindful of their duty to be on the right side of the rule of law.