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World Press Day on May 3: Debate rages on freedom of the press

Article145.png”” alt=””Article145.png”” />As the World celebrates World Press Day on May three, it becomes imperative to examine the status of the media in this country considering that India ranks as low as 133 among 180 countries according to the 2016 ‘World Press Freedom Index‘ released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) with Finland retaining its top spot for the sixth consecutive year, followed by the Netherlands and Norway. Considering the plethora of media in this country – print and electronic – and of course now the social media, yet the debate rages whether there is indeed true freedom of the press. Even though the Constitution provides the right to freedom, given in Articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution, yet, the question is often frequently asked – does the media really enjoy the freedom that is portrayed.

A part of the answer to the difficulties lies in making it possible for independent newspapers and especially periodicals to operate without too much handicap. But, even then, such newspapers may not be as successful as the large ones operated as capitalist undertakings. Their workers, including journalists, may have to work at a sacrifice. But unless there are elements in the country which are ready to work with self sacrifice and zeal for causes in which they believe, new and unorthodox ideas cannot develop and new political groups cannot emerge. Though the country’s media remained most free in South Asia in 2014, press freedom in the country was threatened by several factors, including a series of legal actions against journalists and editorial interference by media owners as also continued violence against journalists, attempts at surveillance, and blocking of news channels, among other forms of censorship, were also issues of concern.

The most serious inadequacy relating to the Indian Press is to be found in newspapers published in Indian languages. Most of them are poorer in quality as compared to newspapers in English. This is so even in respect of Indian language papers belonging to same groups. This obviously happens because the managements of such groups continue to think that the prestige of the group depends more on the English language newspapers than on the Indian language ones. However, the demand for Indian language newspapers is already expanding faster and this trend will be further accelerated in future. As the number of legislators who understand English declines, it is essential in public interest and for the proper functioning of democracy that the quality of the more important Indian language newspapers improves rapidly.

Though the constitution of India does not specifically mention the freedom of press but it is implied from the Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Thus the press is subject to the restrictions that are provided under the Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution ensures to all its citizens the liberty of expression. Freedom of the press has been included as part of freedom of speech and expression under the Article 19 which says: “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.” Another important point pertaining to the freedom of the press is brought out in the observation by the Supreme Court in Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms when it says “One sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non-information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions”.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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