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Freedom Of Press In India: Legal Perspective

The media have played an important role in educating and developing the people. From the conservative society to the open-mindedness one, the role of media have been immensely important. Now, the term 'Freedom' means absence of any kind of control, any interference or free from restrictions. Hence, it is clear that, the expression 'Freedom of press' means the right to print and publish without any interference from the state or any other public authority.

Justice Hidayatullah in Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra[1] said that, "Freedom of speech and expression is that cherished right on which our democracy rests and is mean for the expression of free opinions." Press and media is a medium of social, public and political intercourse. It is a platform for expression of opinion, a means of communication of facts and circumstances of public affairs. It is always regarded as the fourth pillar of the Democracy.

As the fourth pillar of State, it is an educator of the people. The ability of journalists to report freely on matters of public interest is a crucial indicator of democracy. A free press can inform citizens of their leaders' successes or failures, convey the people's needs and desires to government bodies, and provide a platform for the open exchange of information and ideas. When media freedom is restricted, these vital functions break down, leading to poor decision-making and harmful outcomes for leaders and citizens alike[2].

Media of the Nation, which is regarded as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy especially in a Country like India after Legislature, Executive and Judiciary is condemned stringently these days for their publications, news stuffs and allegations for favoring any particular individual or party for creating a sensation or for achieving their own TRP and Consumer Targets.

The Constitution of India does not expressly mention in Article 19 about freedom of the press but it has been held to flow from the general freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to all citizens. As constructed by the judiciary, this freedom now includes not merely the freedom to write and publish, what the writer considers proper, but also the freedom to carry on the business, so that information may be disseminated and excessive and prohibitive burden restricting circulation may be avoided.

Provisions Relating to Freedom of Press
The fundamental right of the freedom of press implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression is essential for political liberty and proper functioning of democracy. Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution does not expressly mention the liberty of press but it has been held that liberty of press is included in the freedom of speech and expression. The fundamental right of the freedom of the press implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression is essential for political liberty and proper functioning of democracy.

"The liberty of the press" as defined by Lord Mansfield, "Consists in printing without any license subject to consequences of law". Thus, the liberty of the press means liberty to print and publish what one pleases, without previous permission. The freedom of press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It includes also pamphlets and circulars and every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.[3]

Thus, freedom of the press includes:
  • Freedom of access to all sources of information (one's own views borrowed from someone else or printed under the direction of person)[4]
  • Freedom of publication
  • Freedom of circulation[5]

Explaining the freedom of the press in Indian Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. V. Union of India[6], the Supreme Court observed that freedom of the press has not been used in Article 19 but it is comprehended within Article 19 (1) (a). The expression means freedom from interference from the authority which would have the effect of interference with the content and circulation of a newspaper. There cannot be any interference in the name of public interest the purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinion without which a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgments.

In India, the freedom of speech and expression is granted by Article19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, which is available only to the citizens of India and not to foreign nationals. Freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) includes the right to express one's views through any medium, which can be by way of writing, speaking, and gesture or in any other form[7]. It also includes the rights of communication and the right to propagate or publish one's opinion.

The right that is mentioned above, guaranteed by our constitution, is regarded as one of the most basic elements of a healthy democracy because it allows citizens to participate in the social and political process of a country very actively. 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 rights are given or 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. 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[8].

In, Sakal Papers Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India[9] , Daily Newspapers (Price and Pages) Order, 1960, which fixed the number of pages and size, which could be published by a newspaper at a price, was challenged. The State defended the law as a reasonable restriction on the business activity of a newspaper, in the interest of the general public. The hon'ble Court struck down the Order and held that the right to freedom of speech cannot be taken away, with the object of placing restrictions of the business activities of a citizen.

Later, in Bennett Coleman v. Union of India[10] , Reiterating its view the Supreme Court further explained that freedom of speech and expression is not only in the volume of circulation but also in the volume of news and views. The press has a right to free propagation and circulation without any previous restraint. If a law was to single out the press for laying down prohibitive burden on it that would restrict the circulation, penalize the freedom of choice as to be personnel, prevent newspaper from being started and compel the press to sick government aid, this would violate Article 19(I)(a) and would fall outside the protection.

History Of Freedom Of Press In India:

The beginnings of the struggle for free speech in India date back to 18th century British India. The history of the freedom of press in India is inseparable from the history of the nationalist movement. The nationalist movement for a free India was fought with repression of the freedom of speech and expression through a series of legislations aimed at stifling the possibility of a consolidated outer against colonial subjugation. That the press played an invaluable role in generating political consciousness is evident from the fact that the British government found it necessary to introduce repressive enactments from time to time neutralizes the power of the print medium.

The Press and Registration of Book Act, 1867[11]
The earliest surviving enactment specially directed against the press was passed in 1867, the Press and Registration of Books Act. The object was however to establish government control over the Freedom of press. It was a regulatory law which enabled Government to regulate printing presses and newspapers by a system of registration and to preserve copies of Books and other matter printed in India.

The Official Secrets Act, 1923[12]
A general Act which has a greater impact on the press, in particular is the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which is aimed at maintaining the security of State against brakeage of secret information sabotage and the like. The Indian press (Emergency) Powers Act 1931 imposed on the press on obligation to furnish security at the call of the Executive.

The Act ,( as amended by the Criminal law Amendment Act,1932 ) empowered a provincial Government to direct a printing press to deposit a security which was liable to be forfeited if the press published any matter by which any of the mischievous acts enumerated in S.4 of the Act were furthered ,e.g., bringing the Government into hatred or contempt or inciting disaffection towards the Government ; inciting feelings of hatred and enmity between different classes of subjects including a public servant to resign or neglect his duty.

The Press (Objectionable matter) Act, 1951[13]
The preamble of the press (Objectionable Matter) Act, 1951, looked innocuous as it was "to provide against the printing and publication of incitement to crime aid other objectionable matter ". The other improvements were as follows: While the Act of 1931 was a permanent statute, he Act of 1951 was a temporary one to remain in force for a period of two years; the new Act provided for a judicial inquiry by a sessions Judge before security could be demanded from a printing press or forfeited to Government ; and the person against whom a complaint had been made could demand the matter to be determined with the aid of a jury and had a right of appeal from the order of the sessions Judge to the high Court.

The Press Council Act, 1965[14]
Following the British precedent, a press Council was constituted in 1996 under the press council Act 1965, which was enacted to implement the recommendations of the press commission. The object of establishing the council was to preserve the freedom of the press to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers in India. It was to form a code of conduct to present writings which were not legally punishable beet were jet objectionable.

Scope Of Freedom Of Press Under Article 19(1) (A):

  • Freedom to spread information
    Without this liberty, freedom of the press is nugatory. Though this right is also implicit in the freedom of expression, Romesh Thapar v State of Madras[15] makes it explicit
  • Freedom to criticize
    The press, just like individuals has the liberty to criticize the government although it's not express but it comes with some responsibility that to criticize sometimes if any unusual happens to criticize, its officials, its policies, its actions, its laws, its statements, etc.
  • Freedom to receive the information
    If the press is not equipped with the information, it cannot empower the public with the knowledge and thus, the right of expression will become futile because there will be no access to information on whose basis anything can be expressed.
  • Freedom to conduct interview
    This right is necessary to bring in firsthand knowledge from the experts on the particulars subjects and to enlighten the society at large.
  • Freedom to report court proceedings
    In Sahara India Real Estate Corporation ltd v SEBI[16], the Supreme Court held that it is the right of the media to report the judicial proceedings. In Saroj Iyer v Maharashtra Medical (Council) of Indian Medicine[17], the Supreme Court held that the right to print faithful reports of the legal proceedings witnessed is available even if it is against quasi-judicial tribunals
  • Freedom to attend and report legislative proceedings
    The right of reporting of legislative proceedings which is implicitly envisaged in the right of expression[18] is in discord with parliamentary privileges[19], the right of speech and expression shall overshadow the parliamentary privileges. Today it is mandatory to do live telecast of the parliamentary proceedings.
  • Freedom to act as an advertising platform
    We know that the major income of most of the presses comes from the advertisement, whether it is a radio, or news channel, or mobile application, or newspaper. It was after Tata Press v Mahanagar Telephone Nigam[20] that the Supreme Court incorporated the right to advertisement as a part of the right to freedom of expression.
  • Freedom to broadcast
    In the modern age of technology, power to broadcast is essential as it is one of the major channels to spread information. This right not only includes broadcasting on news channels, radios, but also on the internet like websites, blogs, and mobile applications.

Restrictions on Freedoms
We know that there is no any right which is absolute or unrestricted. Unrestricted freedom, that is, liberty without any reasonable restrictions on it always hampers the very purpose of granting that freedom in the first place, that is to empower the individuals as it backfires and makes the rights of individual collapse with one another. Since we know that while enjoying our freedom or right one it should not hamper other right to such right or freedom. As freedom of press derives its powers from Article 19(1)(a), it is also subject to the reasonable limitations imposed on Article 19(1)(a) under Article 19(2) which are explained as follow:

Sovereignty and integrity of the state
It was inserted by an amendment to control the extreme reactions of the people, who were protesting for separate entities of the different regions of India. Any form of speech or any expression which hampers the sovereignty or integrity of the state would be covered under this restriction. The right of freedom to speech and expression can't be allowed to be used as a weapon against the sovereignty or integrity of the state. At this juncture, it is essential to take cognizance of the fact that 'sedition' is no ground to impose reasonable restrictions as envisaged under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

Security of the state
The freedom of expression cannot be exercised in a way so that it becomes a threat to the security of the state in any manner. Any communication which incites the people to cause social unrest, rebels, violence, riots, etc against the state and its subjects would be covered under this restriction. In State of Bihar v Shailabala Devi[21], Supreme Court held that the speeches made by any person (citizen or non-citizen) which encourage the people to commit offences like dacoity, murder, robbery, etc. is without a doubt a threat to the security of the state. Hence such a speech will be considered as a prejudice towards the sovereignty or integrity of the state, and the order to stop or curtail such communication is covered under reasonable restrictions of Article 19(2).

Decency or morality
For preserving the decency or morality in the country, the state has the authority to limit the freedom of speech and expression of an individual. Further elaboration of this ground is reflected in Sections 292 to 294 of the IPC. The mentioned sections list downs some acts as crime such as selling obscene publications to young individuals, making indecent gestures in. Public places etc.

In Ranjit Udeshi v State of Maharashtra[22] Supreme Court held that the S. 292 of IPC is constitutional as it prohibits obscenity in public places and promulgates public decency and morality. It was further supplemented in Chandrakant Kalyandas Kakodkar v State of Maharashtra[23] by Supreme Court that while tackling the question of decency and morality, the court has to consider the proposition as to whether or not the indecent or immoral acts were sufficient to pollute the mind of the young individuals or is there a possibility that their minds would become depraved. Defamation Article 19(1) (a) in no manner gives a license to cause damage to the reputation of a person in the name of freedom of speech and expression. Causing damage to an individual's reputation is considered as defamation and is a stringent limitation to the right of freedom of speech and expression.

No one is allowed to expose a person to hate, ridicule or contempt by means of any expression, signs or gestures. Defamation is considered as a very stringent act and therefore it is prohibited by the Civil Laws of Torts. Also, it is an offence under S. 499 of the IPC. As something is enshrined as wrong under two statutes, it is obvious that it has a defence under reasonable restrictions of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. In Subramaniam Swamy Vs. Union of India[24] Supreme Court held that criminal defamation is reasonable restriction under 19(2).

The freedom of the press in India requires critical analysis, as it faces a myriad of challenges that can impact its effectiveness. While India has a vibrant media landscape with numerous outlets and a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression, there are concerns about the extent of this freedom. Journalists in India often face threats, intimidation, and violence, particularly when reporting on sensitive issues such as corruption, communal tensions, or government policies. Additionally, there is a worryingly high level of media ownership concentration, leading to potential biases and self-censorship.

The influence of political parties and powerful corporations on media organizations further raises questions about the independence and objectivity of reporting. Furthermore, the use of defamation laws and sedition charges against journalists can be seen as attempts to stifle dissent and investigative journalism. While India has made significant progress in developing a free press, these challenges underscore the need for continuous efforts to safeguard and strengthen the freedom of the press, ensuring that it can operate without fear or favor, and serve as a robust watchdog in a democratic society.

Press is supposed to be the voice of the public to the government, but in modern times, a contrast to this can be observed, where some of the major mainstream media houses are marketing the political parties while criticizing the opposition's parties and not discussing the relevant issues like public welfare, corruption, analysis of government schemes, etc.

Though it is also true that forums like WhatsApp, YouTube, Telegram, and Facebook which are totally independent are have become prone to fake news leading to mob lynching, fear-mongering, hate speech, propaganda spreading and indecency promoting, which highlights the need of some reasonable restrictions of the press. The status of freedom of the press is the same as that of an ordinary citizen. Though, without a shred of doubt, for preserving democracy and not promoting informed citizenry in the nation, we have to give reasonable freedom to the press.

  1. AIR 1965 SC 881.
  2. Media Freedom, available at,
  3. Lowell Vs. Griffin, (1938), 303 US 444.
  4. M.S.M Sharma v. Sri Krishna Sinha, AIR 1959 SC 395.
  5. Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.
  6. AIR 1986 SC 515.
  7. Dr. J. N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, 207(54th ed. 2017).
  8. Dr. Amedkar´┐Żs Speech in Constituent Assembly Debates, VII, 980.
  9. AIR 1962 SC 305.
  10. AIR 1973 SC 106.
  11. The Press and Registration of Book Act, 1867, available at,
  12. Available at,
  13. Available at,
  14. Available at,
  15. AIR 1950 SC 124.
  16. (2013) 1 SCC 1.
  17. AIR 2002 Bom 97.
  18. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
  19. Article 105 & 194 of the Constitution of India.
  20. 1995 AIR 2438.
  21. 1952 AIR 329.
  22. Supra 13.
  23. 1970 AIR 1390.
  24. (2016) 7 SCC 194.

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