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Freedom Of Press In Today's Era

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees the freedom of expression to all the individuals. Freedom of press is derived from it. Time and again the hon'ble Supreme Court in various judgements has reiterated the importance of freedom of press, its impact on various other rights and its role in shaping the social and political understandings and decisions of individuals. One of the vital foundations of any democracy is the expression of its citizenry.

Press not only reports, but also acts as the medium of expression for others and most importantly for the voiceless. In the same perspective, this essay tries to delve into the future of truth and press, by taking into consideration the present legal maxims and changing dynamics around press.

"The last right we shall mention, regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated, into more honorable and just modes of conducting affairs"- Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec, October 26, 1774

From the First Amendment of the Constitution of United States stating that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances"; to Article 19 of UDHR which states that:
"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.";

to Article 19(2) ICCPR guaranteeing "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice"; and moving further to Article 11(2) of European Union Charter which states that the:
"The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected."

We still get to know that out of 180 countries and territories, 28 have been classified as "very bad" in terms of Press Freedom in the World Press Freedom Index 2022 by Reporters Without Borders. Almost 40 per- cent of Central Asia and Europe has been classified as "problematic" in the same index.

Despite these Constitutional and Legal safeguards, the world is struggling to have a free press. The news media, corporate and politicians are intertwined in producing myths, propagandas and conspiracy theories and distort, deflect and dramatize the truth for the sake of the viewership, sponsors and political interests.

As Justice N.V. Ramanna said that the news media is being used as a tool to expand business interest. The agenda driven press with diluted editorial process squeezes the critical analyses of truth and at times serves as a space to deny the truth. The truth does not have any alternative. But also, we would not find the truth without encountering the falsehood. The popular notion that the "truth shall ultimately prevail" is not as easy as said, as the truth will not prevail, expressed, printed, published and telecasted automatically. This is where the media becomes extremely important for the truth to ultimately win.

The press has played an important role during the national struggle for independence. It is important to note that stalwart nationalist leaders had their own printing press and newspaper, with the main aim of formation, propagation and education of nationalist ideology.

The early works of the Indian National Congress were carried through the press and it is interesting to know that almost one- third of the founding fathers of the INC were journalists. Powerful newspapers emerged during this period like, the hindu, swadesamitran, kesari, mahratta, amrita bazar patrika, voice of India and many more. Surendranath Bnerjee was the first journalist to go to jail. The British government was so rattled by the influence of the Indian press that in 1898, they amended the Sec 124 A and added a new Sec 153 A, making a penal offence for bringing contempt against the Government.

Gandhi ji had pleaded guilty under Sec 124A, for his article in Young India, which his political predecessor Lokmanya Tilak was convicted of under the same section.

Speaking in the context of India, several members had raised their opinion to make freedom of press explicitly, in the freedom of expression while having a discussion on Article 13 in the Constituent Assembly. But, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was of the opinion that the freedom of expression is enough to protect the freedom of press.

Article (1)(s) of Constitution of Free India: A Draft by M.N. Roy states that:
"The freedom of press and speech is guaranteed to all but the enemies of the people." Although this draft acts as academic literature, by providing the insight regarding the importance of freedom of press in the scheme of thoughts of scholars like MN Roy. Along the line of Jefferson, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru also expressed his view with regard to the freedom of press, stating that he shall have a free press with all the dangers involved rather than having a regulated and suppressed press.

Irrespective of the fact that the "Freedom of Press" has not been explicitly mentioned in the Article 19 as it has been done in the First Amendment, the Constituent Assembly and the Supreme Court in Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras considered that the freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of press. Once the freedom of press has been established, the court in the Raj Narain vs Union of India held that the citizens have the right to know every public act by their public functionaries.

The court very eloquently described the purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic country cannot make responsible judgement in the landmark judgement of the Indian Express Newspaper (Bombay) Private Ltd. and others vs Union of India.

The court held that freedom of press is encompassed within the freedom of expression. The court further held that the freedom of press cannot be curtailed under the name of public interest. It further elucidated that content of the newspaper will often contain content that is not palatable with the government and the administration. They are meant to critically analyze the news and recognize the shortcomings of the government. This is done to rectify them.

The judgement also recognized the role played by the newspaper in the social and the political life of the individual, by providing with the facts and analyses which the electorates use to take informed decisions in the elections. In this way the press is making informed individuals.

In the Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors the court held that the freedom of press means the right of the people to speak, express, and publish their thoughts. Freedom of press embodies the right of the people to read, which means that infringing freedom of press not only infringes the right of the press, but also of the readers in various ways.

In Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India and others vs Cricket Association of Bengal and others, the court further elucidated the freedom of expression and speech. The court held that it includes the right to educate, to inform and to entertain and also the right to be educated, to be informed and to be entertained.

The court in the same judgement expressed the consequences of one-sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non- information, through the central authority or by a private individual or an oligarchic organization. They create uninformed citizenry and hence make democracy a farce. A democratic government is based upon the premise of accountability towards its citizens. Misinformation and propaganda not only acts as an obstacle towards seeking it, but also are employed as a tool by state machinery to avoid and deflect any attempt made towards it.

It is very well established that the freedom of press is to impart true information and to advance public interest. Freedom of Press provides and emboldens the Right to Information. Walter Lippmann famously said that more that the danger to the press and journalism comes more from the company they keep, than from other sources.

The close association of the journalists and the press with the political and the corporate circle, for purposes other than the news, harms the integrity and the functioning of the press and the rights of the citizens at large. In the present day, when the large corporate houses own the media channel, it is next to impossible to maintain a distance from the two.

When news becomes commodity, breaking it first becomes the priority, views become the basis of validity, noise overtakes the news and reporting becomes the suppression of facts, it is high time for the people to stop taking anything at face value.

In the Times of misinformation and propaganda, where the originator of the above mentioned is to generate information that serves their end, it becomes pertinent to safeguard the truth by guaranteeing Protection against Misinformation. Fact of the matter is that not every information is correct information and not every press is upholding the principles of journalism.

The principal organ for decision making in every state has to initiate and empower the existing law and rules to strike a balance between the right to information and freedom of press at one end and protection against misinformation at other. There is hardly any reason to be optimistic for the functioning of the press as a provider of truth, but at the same time there is no benefit in being pessimistic for the same.

One of the most crucial stages is passing legislation that safeguards press freedom and the rights of journalists. There are several jurisdictions that have "shield laws," which are regulations that grant journalists an unqualified or limited right to withhold their sources.

A shield law safeguards the source as well as the journalist. By being informed about threats to press freedom and initiatives to support free media, citizens can contribute to the protection of press freedom on a personal level. Another approach to ensure that the news that matters to you most is reported on is to subscribe to your local newspaper.

For the purpose of democracy, everyone in society must be concerned about and committed to defending the right to freedom of the press. It is not the sole responsibility of the press to uphold its freedom and protect the truth, the umbrella guarantee of freedom of expression to all the citizens, makes it the duty of the citizens to uphold this freedom by being an enlightened citizen in a democratic setup.

  1. Full Text of Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec, October 26, 1774, available at:
  2. Constitution of USA, First Amendment, available at:
  3. Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, available:
  4. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976, available:
  5. European Convention on Human Rights, available:
  6. Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union 2000, available
  7. Reporters Without Borders, Report: World Press Freedom Index, 2022, available at:
  8. Press freedom "problematic in almost 40% of Europe & Central Asia" Euractiv, May 3, 2022.
  9. Constitution of Free India : A Draft (M.N. Roy, 1944), available at:
  10. Chandra, B., Mukherjee, M., Mukherjee, A., Panikkar, K. N., & Mahajan, S. (2016). India's struggle for independence. Penguin UK.
  11. Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124
  12. State of U.P. v. Raj Narain
  13. Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. [(1972) 2 SCC 788]
  14. Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. [(1985) 1 SCC 641 ]
  15. Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal

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