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Media's Freedom in Democracy

It was on the late night of 25th June 1975, when Indira Gandhi through All India Radio Station announced that:
"The president has proclaimed Emergency. There is nothing to worry about."

Subsequently, in forthcoming days India witnessed the most draconian phase after the Imperial Rule, this phase saw suspension of Constitutional rights, booking of opposition leaders, passing of 42nd Amendment Act but the most nefarious deed amongst these was censorship of the press.

As we all are aware that November 2, 2022 worldwide was marked as 'International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalist.' As journalism being eminent part of media so I, Aakash Singh Sajwan, would like to throw light on the "Media's Freedom in Democracy."

As Rudyard Kipling has Expressly mentioned-"While Thrones and Powers confess, That king over all the children of pride. Is the Press- the Press- the Press!"

Role Of Media

Thomas Caryle Has Coined Media To Be The 4th Pillar Of Democracy.
Democracy is derived from the Greek word Demokratiawhich means Rule of people. Thus, as Aung San Suu kyihas rightly said "Democracy is when the people keep a government in check," the job of keeping government in check has been rendered to the media in democracy, the work of showing mirror to government and keeping the crusade of transparent democracy alive is the profession ethics and ethos of media.

With the advent of technology media has widened up, now media is not only limited to TVs, radios, newspapers but 21st century era encompasses social media platforms as well. World saw the power of social media platforms during Arab Spring, and world is witnessing that power again in Iraq by Muqta-Al-Sadr.

Also, during Covid 19 pandemic we saw how social media helped average citizens and complemented the efforts of the modern governments in dealing with the crisis. Around the world, social media is making it easier for people to have a voice in government to discuss issues, organize around causes and hold leaders accountable.

Media's Manipulation

Un Secretary General Antonio Guterres has emphasised that Democracy cannot survive without Free Press and Freedom of Expression. Because about 100 years ago, Europe observed complicity of Dictatorship and Media, when fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini through Popolo d'Italia (The People of Italy), and Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler through V´┐Żlkischer Beobachter, (People's Observer) manipulated media for their own benefits.

Thus, manipulating media by governments in a country is not new. In today's context the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reported that 85% of the world's population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country in past 5 years. Further, between 2006 and 2020 over 1200 journalists have been killed for reporting news and bringing information to the public and also in nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished according to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists.

A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists revealed that according to the CPJ's 2021 prison census, a record 293 journalists were jailed for their work globally this year. The number for 2020 was 280. Also there have been a number of arrests and criminal cases against journalists and political activists criticising government policies.

The arrest of journalists under sedition and The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has become extremely common in democratic India. Be it the increase in detention of media personnels or abduction of Anaas Mullick the Wion correspondent in rogue state Afghanistan or killing of 455 journalists worldwide between 2016 to 2022. All points out at that whenever media tries to portray the actual picture of the incumbent ruling power it has to face repercussions.

This has also been highlighted by the Hon'bleSupreme Court of India in Vinod Dua Vs Union Of India on 3 June, 2021 (Writ Petition) where Court held that " a citizen has a right to criticize or comment upon the measures undertaken by the Government and its functionaries, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or to create public disorder; and that it is only when the words or expressions have pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC must step in."

Thus it is considered to be a landmark judgment that has upheld the virtue of freedom of speech and expression and understanding the freedom required for journalism to perform its duty as the fourth pillar of democracy.

Reasonable Restriction On Freedom Of Speech For Healthy Democracy

I agree that there is a need for freedom to press for healthy democracy but at the same time there is a need to regulate the perturbation created by media as well. As in case of Kedar Nath V State of Bihar (1962 SC) the judgment was delivered by a bench constituted of Chief Justice B.P. Sinha and Justices A.. Sarkar, J.R. Mudholkar, N. Rajagopala Ayyangar and S.K. Das.

The Court's task was to determine whether there were reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2), which provides that reasonable restrictions may be imposed on certain grounds including public order. If a restriction is in keeping with Article 19(2), it is constitutionally valid. The Court concluded that Section 124A must be construed to only penalize statements that incite public disorder.

Interpreted in such a manner, the provision was constitutionally valid. For the same reason, the Court also held that Section 505 was constitutionally valid; it was a reasonable restriction on the right to freedom of expression in the interest of protecting public order.

Right to freedom of expression should not perturb the mental status of society via fake news as well. On this line India has taken several steps like setting up of a Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau to combat fake news. And efficacy of PIB Fact Check Unit could be seen from the fact that it had responded to 31,174 actionable queries and blocked 56 YouTube based news channels and their social media accounts for public access in 2021 and 2022 under section64A of Information Technology Act, 2000.

There is a long way to go because in 2022 Edition of Press Freedom Index, India ranked 150 amongst 180 countries.

There is a need to regulate media in a way that strikes a balance between freedom of speech and law and order, because media is seen as an enabler for democracy, having better educated voters would lead to a more legitimate government.

I want to recall Advani's pointing to media after emergency by saying " You were asked only to bend, but you crawled." But Today's media neither can afford to bend nor to crawl but to work without any discrepancy keeping their professional ethics high because media is the saviour of democracy.

  • Report by the Committee to Protect Journalists 2021
  • Vinod Dua Vs Union Of India on 3 June, 2021 (Writ Petition)
  • Kedar Nath V State of Bihar (1962 SC)

Written By: Aakash Singh Sajwan

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