Freedom is the core of human society, is so crucial for dignified social life and should only be constrained in special circumstances.
In the pre-independent period, Indian Nationalists faced several harsh experiences, when it came to free speech. The colonialist feared free speech as it would unite the masses in protesting against their arbitrary rule in India. To avoid similar experiences in independent India the makers of our Constitution gave primacy to the right of freedom of speech and expression, while drafting it. In fact, this is one of the striking features of the world’s largest democracy and one of the requirements for it to succeed. But the latest press freedom index published by reporters without borders is not a good sign for a democratic country like India, at all. India was ranked 136 in the list of 180 countries. Indian media is often criticised for its deteriorating reporting standards, jaundice coverage of politics and regurgitation of online trends as prime time news.
The press council of India functions under the press council act,1978 is a statutory, quasi judicial body which acts as a watchdog of the press.
The freedom of press in nowhere mentioned in the Indian Constitution. The right to freedom of speech and expression is provided in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. It is believed that it includes freedom of press.
Every Indian, including press reporters can express Ideas and views freely through press and public platform. The status of press is same as that of an ordinary citizen.
But freedom of the press must be subject to those limitations which apply to freedom of speech and expression. These restrictions are mentioned in Article 19(2) which empowers the state to put reasonable restrictions on the following grounds eg:- security of state, friendly relations with foreign state, public order decency and morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to offence and integrity and sovereignty of India.
44th amendment has given parliament substantial power to regulate press freedom.A new article 361A (protection of publication of proceedings of legislatures) has been added to the Constitution with this object in view.
The censorship of press is very crucial and sensitive issue. In general, press censorship is regarded as very unhealthy check on the freedom of free expression of views. In India, the constitution does not specifically forbid press censorship. Hence, only check on the state in resorting to censorship is that it should be reasonable.Present position is censorship is valid in times of emergency if it is reasonable and if it in the interest of public order.
REASONS FOR LESS FREE PRESS
*Flawed regulatory architecture
According to the report, 54 journalists have come under attack.
In large part the threat to the Indian media’s ability to preserve plurality of views is due to a flawed regulatory architecture that does little to protect press freedom and more to silence it.
* Fear of sedition charges.
Prosecution are also lured to gag journalists who are over critical of government with some prosecutors invoking section 124 A of the penal code, under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment. This encourages self censorship.
*The watch dog was also critical of social media and internet gag in Kashmir and said that in the absence of any “protective mechanism”, coverage of sensitive regions continued to be ” very difficult”.
* Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematized by various religious groups that are quick to take offense
* Self censorship
Here is what RSF said about press freedom in India.
Threat from Modi’s Nationalism with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of anti- national thoughts.Self censorship is growing in mainstream media. Journalists are increasingly the target of online smears by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.
* No law for protection of sources.
In India, there are no statutory rights accorded to journalists to protect their sources. This make uncovering the truth tenuous. Though section 15(2) of the press council act does provide protection to the journalists from revealing his sources but it is only applicable to proceedings in front of press council. No protection is available to the journalists before the court.
It’s true that social media has both pros and cons. Nowadays it is common to abuse/ troll anyone who has an opposite view. Journalists are the worst hit, in such abusive campaign.
The trend of decline in free speech is worrying. Press or media is considered the ” fourth pillar” of democracy. Therefore its independence must be preserved for sustaining democracy. The government, political parties and media can do several things to ensure independence of press.