Freedom of press under Article 19 of Indian Constitution

Freedom of press under Article 19 of Indian Constitution

INTRODUCTION

It is important that people should have the right to express their feelings and to make their opinions known to the people at large in order to preserve the democratic way of life. The press, a powerful mass communication medium, should be free to play its part in building a strong, stable society.  The denial to people of freedom of press would undoubtedly undermine the ability to impact public opinion and be counter to democracy. The Indian Press, right from the times of British rule in the country, has a long history.

In the Post-Constitutional Period, the outlook has been changed. “Under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” In comparison to the U.S. constitution, Under the Indian Constitution, freedom of the press is not explicitly granted. However, it is now well settled that the words “speech & expression” in Article 19(1) (a) includes freedom of press also. Freedom of the press implies freedom from authority to interfere with the content and circulation of newspapers. Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution is subjected to some restrictions set out in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF PRESS IN INDIA

The freedom of press falls under the scope of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of press is highly important in a democracy, since it (the press) serves as a watchdog for the three organs of democracy viz. the legislature, the executive & the judiciary. Yet there is no absolute freedom of the press. It is subject to certain restrictions referred to in Article 19(2) of the Constitution  The grounds of  restrictions set out in Article 19(2) are as follows:-

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  1. Sovereignty & Integrity of India
  2. Security of the State
  3. Friendly relations with Foreign States
  4. Public Order
  5. Decency or Morality
  6. Contempt of Court

POSITION IN INDIA

The Daily Newspaper (Price and Control) Order, 1960, which set a minimum price and number of pages which a newspaper was entitled to publish, was challenged by the petitioner as unconstitutional on the ground that it violated the freedom of the press in Sakal Papers Ltd v. Union of India. Without increasing the pages, the petitioner was required to increase the price of their newspaper. The volume of circulation will be decreased by an increase in prices without any increase in the number of pages. Any reduction in the number of pages, on the other hand, will decrease the column, the space for news, views, or ideas. Consequently, the order acted like a double-edged knife. It decreases circulation by raising prices or publishing or disseminating news, ideas and information by limiting the space of columns to reduce the number of pages. In the interest of the general public, the state defends the statute as a fair limitation on the business activity of a newspaper.

The Court struck down the order rejecting the claim of the State. It declared that the right to freedom of speech and expression cannot be taken away in order to restrict a citizen’s business activity. Only on the grounds referred to in clause (2) of Article 19 can freedom of speech be limited. It cannot, like the freedom to carry on business, be shortened in the interest of the general public.

Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India speaking about the utility of freedom of press the court observes:-

“The expression “freedom of the press” has not been issues in article 19 but it is comprehended within article 19(1) (a). The term implies freedom from authority’s intervention that would have the effect of interfering with the content and distribution of the newspapers, and that freedom cannot be interfered with in the name of the public interest. It is the primary responsibility of the courts to uphold the freedom of the press and to validate all laws or administrative behaviour contrary to the constitutional mandate. Press freedom is the heart of social and political intercourse.

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The question of validity of censorship came up for consideration in the case of Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi.

In that case the Chief Commissioner of Delhi, in pursuance of Section 7 of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1949 issued an order against the printer, publisher and the editor of an English Weekly of Delhi, called the Organizer, directing them to submit for analysis in duplicate before publication till further orders, all communal matters and news and views, about the Pakistan including the photographs and cartoons other than those derived from official source of supplied by the news agencies. The Court struck down the order, observing that the press which is the essential part of the freedom of the speech and expression declared by Article 19(1) (a). Similarly, prohibiting newspaper from the publication of its own views or the views of the correspondence about the burning topic of the day is the serious encroachment on the valuable rights of the freedom of speech and expression.

The validity of the News Print Control Order that set the maximum number of pages was challenged in Bennet Colman and Co. v. Union Of India (10 pages that a newspaper could publish) as a breach of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 14 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court dismissed this claim and accepted the “effect” test as to whether the “effect” of the impugned law is to abridge a constitutional right, whether its object or subject matter is irreverent.

A law banning the entry and circulation of journals in a state was held to be unconstitutional in Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras. The Court held that there can be no doubt that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom to propagate ideas and that freedom of circulation is guaranteed. A law authorizing the imposition of restrictions on grounds of public security or the preservation of public order’ falls outside the scope of the restrictions authorized under clauses (2) and therefore void and unconstitutional.

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CONCLUSION

The institution of the press has a special role to play in the planning phase of the nation and in evolving and developing democracy like India for the future. Its purpose is to gather news from all possible sources available and disseminate news for people’s knowledge and enlightenment, as well as to provide a platform for free speech and comments that is so essential to strengthen the foundations of democracy. It will have to be subjected to certain kinds of restraints because of its special role and also because of its potential for future power, which may not be either necessary or desirable in the case of individuals. Article 19 of the Constitution, however, grants both of them the same status. They are exposed to the same kinds of restrictions. It is accepted that an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression must be zealously guarded against any interference that goes purely beyond the limitation permissible by clause (2) of article 19.

Author: Ishita Agrawal,
B.A.LL.B. 3rd year, Himachal Pradesh National Law University Shimla

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