LAW YOG

Censorship of the Press: Effects and Consequences

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       “Censorship is to media as lynching is to justice.”

The media and entertainment industry has consistently expanded and continues to expand at a national and international level, particularly with the rise of new mediums for distribution, supported by dynamic technological progress. The Indian market has not only followed this global trend over the years but has also demonstrated enormous potential. In the recent past, the Indian media and entertainment industry has witnessed a standard shift, both in the volume and demand for varied content as well as in the different means opted by viewers to access the content.

With the rise in digitization in India and greater access and affordability of the internet, digital media and entertainment platforms, also known as over the top platforms, have become trending and popular with viewers of all age groups and categories. They are perhaps on the verge of replacing the conventional television box and the availability of a wide range of content on a single platform, fulfilling the needs and tastes of a varied audience base, adds to the entertainment platforms being more attractive for viewers.

With respect to journalism and the press, there is widespread censorship because of the control that bureaucracy exercises over journalism, which is the most viable device for both, education and propaganda. In the media and press, we have witnessed cases of self-censorship and we have seen instances of sedition and defamation cases being filed against liberal news platforms.

What is Censorship?

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, questionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient. Censorship can be conducted by governments, private institutions, and corporations. Censorship is a powerful tool that can work for or against society and people. It can be beneficial in some aspects but can have a harmful effect if used improperly. It can either result in spreading balanced information or hide the truth about issues people deserve to know. Now, the burden lies on the shoulders of the people responsible on its side.

Role of media in Contemporary Indian democracy

Media is the “fourth pillar” of democracy and it plays an important role in ensuring justice and benefits of the government policies reach the inner sections of the society. They act as a chain between the government and the citizens of the country, people have faith in the media as it has a huge impact on the audience. The changing dynamics of Indian politics has increased people’s expectations from the media as in this phase of transition; it is pretty easy to believe in a particular belief.

Talking about the present scenario the older generation of the country is still fixated on tradition and culture, while the present-day youth is more interested in the fast-moving world of technology, western culture and social media. Thus, it becomes important for the media to ensure that the information that they are broadcasting should not be biased or tampered in a way to increase the channel’s TRP.

Freedom of the Press – Constitutional status

Every legal system is founded on the basis of constitutional principles. The same is true with the Indian legal system, as it is based upon the Indian Constitutional law. To put it in layman’s words, every right, liberty, power, immunity or liability has to be rooted in the constitution, only then, it can be invoked. Similarly, freedom of the 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 the press in two aspects.

(i) Preamble

(ii) Article 19(1) (a)– Right to freedom of speech and expression

Importance of Freedom of Speech and Expression and Freedom of the Press

Freedom of speech and expression is an essential aspect of liberty as stated in Maneka Gandhi v Union of India1. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution have laid much importance on the fact that freedom of speech and expression should be one of the fundamental rights of an individual. So they have placed the freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1) (a) which is a constituent part of the chapter on fundamental rights incorporated in the Indian Constitution. There are six freedoms secured in Article 19(1) (a), and the freedom of speech and expression is ranked first among the six freedoms incorporated in the said Article of the constitution. Speech and expression is not only the liberty of an individual but it is one of the basic necessities of the human being. It is because of speech and expression that the human being can not only be developed but also is capable of expressing other emotions and feelings. The freedom of the press is one of the most important agencies of communicating one’s speech and expression.

 Hence the freedom of the press performs very vital functions of the society.

  1. The freedom of the press is known as the backbone of democracy. This is the most basic function performed by the freedom of the press. It is because of the freedom of the press that democracy survives. Democracy means the government of the people, by the people and for the people. The press makes it possible for the government to know the moods and necessities of the people. Simultaneously the press communicates to the whole society, the motive, policy and measures of the government.
  2. The press is considered to be the most influential medium of communication, because of its very wide horizons. That is why freedom of the press is a very precious freedom.
  3.  The freedom of press assists to uncover the truth.
  4.  The press today is considered as an instrument of imparting education.
  5. The press helps in creating, molding and commuting public opinion. That is why the press is considered to be an instrument of change.
  6. As the press makes the government action public, it is responsible to make the government officers responsible and accountable.
  7. The press plays the role of public vigilance and acts as effective checks on the malpractices and corruption, not only on the government officers but also on the private individuals.
  8.  The language press strengthens the bonds of the community within the state and thus helps in achieving stability and solidarity in the nation.
  9.  The press and the digital media are very useful and popular because they deliver and circulate accurate news at a lightning speed.
  10.  Last but not least the press and the media act as an eye opener of the society.

Restrictions on the Freedom of Press and Media

According to Hohfeld, every right has a corresponding duty. It means that if a person has the right to freedom of speech and expression, then others have the duty not to commit any act which would prohibit that person from exercising his speech and expression. This is absolutely true because if the duties are not performed then the rights cannot prevail. Another parallel principle of jurisprudence which prevails is that no concept can exist without limitations. To put it, in other words, every legal concept is demarcated by limitations or restrictions. The role of restrictions is very important for individuals as well as the state.

 The functions of limitations or restrictions are twofold.

(i)   When the scope or the sphere of the right is demarcated by limitation then the individual gets a clear idea about the extent of his right. That means he knows what he can do and what he cannot do.

(ii) The second function of the limitation is that the state can restrict the individual’s action which is beyond the scope of the right. The limitations or the restrictions in such a case amount to the power of the state to curtail the right which is exceeding its scope. Under the Indian Constitution right to six freedoms are enumerated in Article 19(1), and the restrictions are mentioned from Article 19(2) to 19(6). So actually Article 19 on one hand confers the rights to the individuals under Article 19(1), and on the other hand Article 19 confers power to the state to curtail these rights under 19 (2) to 19(6). So Article 19 simultaneously confers the right and powers to take away the right. The best method to understand the nature and scope of a right is to understand the restrictions or limitations placed on that right.

 Conclusion

The importance and significance of the press are extreme. The press is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy. In fact, the freedom of the press reflects the achievements of democracy. The press performs a twofold duty because, on one hand, it communicates to the government the mood, aspirations, thoughts, and needs of the people; and on the other hand, it communicates to the society the intentions, actions, and measures of the governments to the people. The press is considered to be the most effective medium, to feel the pulse of the society and communicate it to the government. The press is considered to be a link between the different regions of the entire nation as the freedom of speech and expression knows no geographical boundaries. The freedom of speech is the core and freedom of expression is the fringe, and freedom of the press includes both these aspects.

Endnotes

1.  1978 AIR 597 1978 SCR (2) 621 197

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Vani Parashar

Student, Amity University NOIDA

Vani Parashar is a 3rd-year law student at Amity University, Noida. As a law student, She has taken part in different fields like youth parliaments, debates, MUNs and event organisation. She is a well-rounded individual who lives with passion, dedication and grace and this is what sets her apart from anybody else.

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