After reading an interesting editorial piece by Justice Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court, the debate between the media’s freedom of expression and the media’s responsibility has got me thinking on where exactly one should strike the balance. A corollary to this question is whether there should be a balance? The freedom of the media is regarded as one of the greatest contributions of the democratic institution. In India, freedom of press has been guaranteed through Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and has been further reaffirmed by the Supreme Court ( Brij Bhushan and Another vs. The State of Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 129 and Sakal Papers (P) Ltd vs. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305,).
The issue that has been burning is whether the media is to be held responsible for the publication of certain articles which might be defamatory and thereby invoking article 19(2) which provides for reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression. So basically as long as the restriction on the media is reasonable (an oft quoted word in the legal world), the restriction is to be held valid. However many critiques to this say that one cannot trust the government to decide on what is a reasonable restriction. For example, if a cartoon of a leader from party x is published in paper a, and if party x happens to be in power in that state, then it is possible that the government might file a defamation suit against the paper a. But if there is a cartoon of a leader from party b, I think it is safe to say we all now how that party would react and more importantly, what benefits the newspaper a would receive. With respect to matters that are sub judice, it is more or less decided in India that there should be some amount of sense and sensitivity (I see Kasab coming up in your mind) . In UK there exists a law which bans journalists from reporting matters that are sub judice. I believe in India we shouldn’t take such drastic steps and somehow, keeping in tune with the drift of this piece, strike a balance.
Secondly, in this modern age of internet activism, websites like twitter and facebook have shown to be an indirect way of disseminating news and information. I would like to call these sources as “indirect press” as mostly people’s opinion on a particular issue is shown on these websites. What about regulation in this form of information ? Should this form of media be even regulated? A recent case in the UK involved a scandal of a certain celebrity (another thing MAN U fans can worry about, after their loss to Barcelona) and the court had issued an injunction against certain newspapers to prevent them from reporting on the player’s life as it was supposed to be an infringement of privacy. Yet due to length and breadth of influence websites like twitter seem to have on society now (at least in UK), many people were able to learn about the scandal. Due to this there appears to be a case against the first person who “tweeted” on the matter.
Finally coming back to the point of this entire post, I’m a firm believer of crusading for Media rights and independence. I would champion the cause for the freedom of the press. If the “indirect press” turns out to be an important form of spreading the word, on any matter, I certainly would not want some form of rigorous regulation. However, looking at the larger picture, as a responsible member of society, I will support responsible reporting of news over pure sensationalism. If we (and journalists) learn to be responsible on what we write, we can strike a balance.
Student, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]