Press and Democracy

  • Democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people and which gives equal chance to all the citizens to participate and play a significant role in the political process, ensures and guarantees certain rights and freedoms to the people constituting the policy.
  • It is a form of government which is subject to popular sovereignty. Of the fundamental freedoms that the citizens enjoy, freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important ones as it gives substance and meaning to ‘participation’ of the people.
  • A democratic system to run in its full potential need wide participation on the part of general masses which is impossible without the people being informed about the various issues.
  • Thus, reliable information sources form an important constituent of a democratic society. This is where the role and importance of media arises.
  • The media has undoubtedly evolved and become more active over the years. Mass media have great influence on human life in the present century. They have provided information and entertainment to people across countries. Print media was been the leader of mass medias over a considerable period of time. But now it has got competition from Television, which is reshaping many of the social responses.
  • Radio apart from providing news and views has also developed a flair for entertainment, thereby getting a lot of acceptance.
  • There is also the new media with internet being its flag bearer. Internet has indeed made it possible to disseminate information and ideas in real time across the globe.

Freedom of Speech and Expression:

  • “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” – John Milton.
  • The freedom of speech is considered as one of the first condition of liberty. It occupies an important and preferred position in the hierarchy of the liberty, it is also said that the freedom of speech is the mother all liberties.
  • Freedom of speech means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode.
  • In the modern era, right to freedom of speech is one of the essences of free society and it must be protected at all time. Liberty to express opinions and ideas without any hindrance, and especially without any fear of punishment plays an important role in that particular society and ultimately for the state.
  • ‘Freedom’ means the absence of control, interference or restriction.
  • Hence the expression ‘freedom of the press’ means the right to print and publish without any interference from the state or any public authority. Since, in India, freedom of expression is guaranteed by Art.19(1)(a) of the constitution, and it has been held by the Supreme Court that freedom of the press is included in that wider guarantee, it is unnecessary to plead for the freedom of the press in this country.
  • Freedom of speech is not only guaranteed by the constitution of statutes of various states but also by various international conventions such as by Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights etc. These declarations discuss about the freedom of speech and expression.
  • Freedom of speech enjoys special position as far as India is concerned. The importance of freedom of expression and speech can be easily understand by the fact that preamble of constitution itself ensures to all citizens inter alia, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.
  • The constitutional significance of the freedom of speech consists in the preamble of constitution and is transformed as fundamental and human right in Article 19(1) (a) as “freedom of speech and expression.
  • With the explanation of the scope of “freedom of speech and expression”, the Supreme Court has said that the words must be broadly constructed to include the freedom to circulate one’s views by words of mouth or in writing or through audio-visual instrumentalities. Freedom of Speech and Expression means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It thus includes the expression of one’s own idea through any communicable medium or visible representation, such as gesture, signs, and the like.
  • Moreover, it is important to note that liberty of one must not offend the liberty of others.  Patanjali Shastri J., in A.K. Gopalan case, observed, ‘man as a rational being desires to do many things, but in a civil society his desires will have to be controlled with the exercise of similar desires by other individuals’. It therefore includes the right to propagate one’s views through the print media or through any other communication channel e.g.; the radio and the television. Every citizen of this country therefore has the right to air his or their views through the printing and or the electronic media subject of course to permissible restrictions imposed under Article 19(2) of the constitution. In sum, the fundamental principle involved here is the people’s right to know.
  • Freedom of speech and Expression should, therefore, receive generous support from all those who believe in the participation of people in the administration.

Constitutional Provisions of India:

  • 19 (1) (a) secures to every citizen the freedom of speech and expression. This has to be read with clause (2) which provides that the said right shall not prevent the operation of law relating to the matters specified therein.
  • The freedom of the press is not confined to newspapers, and periodicals, but also includes pamphlets, leaflets, circulars, and every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.
  • There is no need to emphasise that a free press, which is neither directed by the executive nor subjected to censorship, is a vital element in a free state; but in particular, a free, regularly published, political press is essential in the modern democracy.
  • Therefore, the press keeps and enlightens the citizens to make political decisions, know the opinion of others to weigh them up against each other. The press, thus provides the information, adopts its own point of view, and thus works as a direction giving force to the public debate.
  • It stands as a permanent means of communication and control between the people and their elected representatives in Parliament and Government.  Banning of publication in any newspaper of any matter relating to any particular subject or class of subjects would be obnoxious to the right of free speech. It is certainly a serious encroachment on the valuable and cherished right to freedom of speech.
  • The Freedom of speech and Expression includes the freedom of propagation of ideas and is ensured by the freedom of circulation.
  • ‘The right to freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of placing restrictions on the business activities of a citizen.
  • Freedom of speech can be restricted only in the interests of the security of state, friendly relations with the foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. It cannot, like the freedom to carry on business, be curtailed in the interests of the general public’.
  • ‘It is the duty of the state to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the state. The state cannot plead its inability to handle the hostile audience problem. It is its obligatory duty to prevent it and protect the freedom of expression’.

Role of Media in Democracy and Good Governance

  • Good governance is an indeterminate term used to describe how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources. Governance is the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are implemented.
  • Good governance is about the processes for making and implementing decisions. It’s not about making ‘correct’ decisions but about the best possible process for making those decision. The concept of “good governance” centres around the responsibility of governments and governing bodies to meet the needs of the masses as opposed to select groups in society.
  • Media usually refers to mass media, which is any medium that provides citizens with information regarding all the current affairs of any area at a large scale. It is unbiased reporting of facts through print, television, radio or Internet.
  • Traditionally and constitutionally, the media has no defined role in governance. It doesn’t have the power to change any decisions made by the various arms of a state––the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Yet, the media plays one of the most important roles in the functioning of any society. It amplifies the voice of citizens and communicates their opinions to the lawmakers.
  • Access to information is essential for a democratic society because it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation and information also serves a checking function. It is well known that media overlaps other functional areas of democracy and governance. For example, support for media may yield results in governance activities, particularly those related to decentralization, anti-corruption, and citizen participation in the policy process. The rule of law may be further institutionalized by support for an independent media that keeps a check on the judiciary, reports on the courts, and promotes a legal enabling environment suitable for press freedom.
  • Free and fair elections conducted through transparent processes require a media sector which gives candidates equal access, and reports the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner.
  • “If it were left on me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • According to the first Press Commission in India freedom of the Press refers to hold opinions, to receive and to impart information through the printed word without any interference from any public authority.
  • Thus, it is the right of the citizen o publish without any prior permission from the government or any other public authority, subject only to the legal liability for what he has chosen to publish. Freedom of press has three essential features; namely freedom of publication, freedom of access to all sources of information and freedom of circulation. Press freedom, thus plays a vital role in the formulation of public opinion on issues of public importance.
  • If media is to have any meaningful role in democracy and governance it must be free and independent from the control of government. The ultimate goal of media is to serve the public interest. The public interest is defined as representing a plurality of voices both through a greater number of outlets and through the diversity of views and voices reflected within one outlet.
  • Television and radio have made a significant achievement in educating rural illiterate masses in making them aware of all the events in their language. Coverage of exploitative malpractices of village heads and moneylenders has helped in taking stringent actions against them by attracting government attention. The media also exposes loopholes in the democratic system, which ultimately helps government in filling the vacuums of loopholes and making a system more accountable, responsive and citizen-friendly. A democracy without media is like a vehicle without wheels.
  • Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called media ‘the watchdog of our democracy’. This handed the media a huge responsibility in the functioning of our society. Thus, media plays the role of communicator in democracy.
  • They make people aware and conscious of their state of affairs by providing them with in depth insight on important issues concerning people. Though freedom of press is essential and indispensable for the successful functioning of the Indian democracy, it is very often silenced by the executive, gagged by the legislature, suppressed by judiciary, repressed and muzzled by the pressure groups.
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