Freedom of Press In Indian Constitution – Brief Overview

The Freedom of the Press is 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 Freedom of Speech and Expression in Article 19 of the Indian constitution include freedom of the press.

Citizens of India are guaranteed the right of freedom of speech and expression. Every Indian, including press reporters, can express ideas and views freely through press and public platform.

Freedom of expression enables one to express one’s own voices as well as those of others. But freedom of the press must be subject to those restrictions which apply to the freedom of speech and expression. The restrictions mentioned in Article 19 are defamation, contempt of court, decency or morality, security of the state, friendly relations with other states, incitement to an offence, public order and maintenance of the sovereignty and integrity of India.

The status of freedom of the press is the same as that of an ordinary citizen. The press cannot claim any immunity from taxation, is subject to the same laws regulating industrial relations, and press employees are subject to the same laws regulating industrial employment.

Again, the press enjoys normal freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of Indian Constitution. Hence no law can be passed to abridge its freedom of expression, cannot be subjected to excessive or prohibitive burdens to curtail its circulation and cannot be subjected to specific tax deliberately imposed to limit circulation of information. In gist, the constitution does not grant any power to the government to impose arbitrary restrictions on the press. Politicians in power often feel very tempted to pass laws restricting press freedom, to withhold information likely to generate unfavorable reactions among the people.

In 1976, during the emergency, the Parliament enacted the Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matter Act. The Janata Government in 1978 repealed the Act. However, the 44th amendment adopted in 1978 has given the Parliament substantial powers to regulate press freedom. A new article, Article 361A has been added to the constitution with this object in view.

The censorship of the Press is a very crucial and sensitive issue in every democracy. 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. Even this check on the government was not there before the 1st amendment of the constitution in 1951. But in two cases, Brij Bhusan vs. the State of Delhi and Ramesh Thapar vs. State of Madras, the Supreme Court held that censorship imposes obvious restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. After the last amendment, censorship is permitted if it is reasonable and if it is called for in the interest of public order.

Thus the present position is censorship is valid in times of emergency if it is reasonable and if in the interest of public order. In times of emergency under Article 352 censorship is valid when Article 19 itself stands suspended under Article 358 of the constitution.

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