FREEDOM OF PRESS: A GUARANTEED RIGHT?


The Constitution of India, under Article 19(1)(a), provides for the right of freedom of speech and expression to every citizen of India. Freedom of speech and expression connotes the citizens’ right to speak and to freely express their views without any unreasonable restrictions.

Various theorists have expressed their views about whether a company can possess the right to press or not. One such theory suggests that companies possess natural rights, however, do not have all the rights provided to citizens.[1] There are numerous judicial pronouncements through which courts explain the rights a company has. A company has a distinct stand which cannot be confined to natural people but should be extended to private individuals as well [2]. Further, the court, while allowing the petition of R.M.D Chamarbaugwalla, considered them as a company for infringement of their basic rights under Article 19(1)(g).

What do judgments from previous cases say?

Bennett Coleman and Company [3] is a vital case in regards to deciding whether or not a corporation has the freedom of speech and expression. During this case, the Supreme Court ruled that “the basic rights of shareholders as voters do not seem to be lost after they associate to form a company”. Moreover, the court explicitly held that as a result of the individual rights of freedom of speech and expression of editors, administrators and shareholders, which are all expressed through their newspapers; getting rid of a non-national newspaper can cause a denial of relief to shareholders of that particular corporation.[4]

The Law Commission of India, in its Hundred-First Report [5], obsessed with the thought of whether or not the basic right of freedom of speech and expression ought to be created obtainable to businesses and alternative artificial entities. Further, the Law Commission took recognition of the fact that there existed a minimum of four classes of companies that needed freedom of speech and expression. These classes included firms owning newspapers, magazines, firms manufacturing or distributing films, and institutes such as universities or establishments that conduct seminars and convey out publications.[6]

In 1983, the Supreme Court of India reiterated the reasoning given within the Bank Nationalization case, and the Cotton Mills case [7]. They stated that the basic rights were not denied to the petitioner being a shareowner. Article 19 of the Constitution is confined to voters, hence, a company that is not a nation cannot claim citizenship, and neither can it claim any rights under the same. Moreover, the Court held that these companies were not considered as “citizens” either. Seeing as several newspapers are printed by firms, and a corporation is not entitled to the basic rights laid down under Article 19, they are not considered national.

Arguments that state that the term “Freedom of Press” is defined in the Constitution

Rights given to the press are not only recognized but also protected. They are protected by the judiciary through its various judgments. When the state tries to curtail the rights of the press through its arbitrary actions, the judiciary upholds the rights of the press. The Constitution of India integrates the autonomy of the media in two outlooks:[8]

  1. Preamble

  1. Article 19(1)(a)- Right to freedom of speech and expression

Preamble: The liberty of expression is guaranteed to citizens by way of the Preamble. It assures citizens the freedom of expressing their thoughts, beliefs, faiths, and worships. This liberty includes the accuracy of print media. Included under Article 19 of the UDHR (1948), which is one of the identifiable features of the Freedom of Press, Article 19 guarantees everyone the freedom of expressing their views, opinions and feelings without fear [9]

Constitutional Provisions: Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, strongly opinionated that “the press is simply otherwise stating a person or a citizen. The press has no special rights which are not to be or which are not to incline or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his capacity. The editors of the press or the manager are all citizens so once they favour writing down in a newspaper, they’re merely exercising their right of freedom of speech and expression and in my judgment, therefore, no special mention is very important of the freedom of the press within the slightest degree.” [10].

In Re: Daily Zemmedar[11], the court held that the publication and printing of news was the crucial right of the media. Further, the court also held that the media is entitled to characterize the reality of the latest history.[12] The rights of the press also include the right to print views and opinions. In Gopal Dass v. D.M[13] the Supreme Court held that the printing of an editor's views is also a right given to the press. Further, in Sharma v. Srikrishna [14], the Court stated that the views of both the editor's and of third parties under the directions of the editor matter. The printing and circulation of views are a matter of fact, as per Romesh Thappar, v. State of Madras.[15]. Another aspect of the right to press includes the right to analyze public affairs as held by the Supreme Court in the Bennett Coleman v. the State of J. & K case[16] Here, criticizing public policies is also a right provided under the freedom of the press.[17] Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution impliedly includes the right of press because the liberty of press flows from the freedom of speech and expression that is enjoyed by every citizen. [19]

Arguments which state that the term “Freedom of Press” is not defined in the Constitution

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees the Freedom of Speech and Expression but does not expressly include the Freedom of the Press. Unlike the American Constitution [20], Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution does not specifically or separately provide for the liberty of the press.[21]

The Double Murder Story [22] which saw a media trial, Rajesh Talwar, the father of the victim was in prison for over 50 days on grounds of suspicion, whereas the media had already held him guilty without any strong evidence.

In Saibal v. B.K. Sen [23] the Supreme Court claimed that “It would be mischievous for a newspaper to systematically conduct an independent investigation into a criminal offence that an individual has been arrested and to publish the results of that investigation. This is often actually because, trial by newspapers, when an attempt by one of the regular tribunals of the country goes on, must be prevented. The premise for this view is that such action on the part of a newspaper tends to interfere with the course of justice.”

They point fingers at anyone whom they cast aspersions on and any institution within the name of the fundamental rights granted to them. The ‘doctrine of innocence until proven guilty’ is openly flouted and, thus, the elemental right of the accused ‘to have an honest trial’ is put to dust. One’s fundamental right must not be used as a tool to transgress upon those of others.[24]

All in all, from the above arguments it can be understood that the freedom of the press is not expressly defined in the Constitution. However, if we interpret the Constitution, we will find that there are indeed rights given to the press as well. There are countless arguments and various court judgments that agree to this while some judgments state otherwise. While the press should have their freedom, they should not misuse their rights and reasonable restrictions should be imposed to prevent them from misusing the same. The media being the fourth pillar of every society, there is no denying that they should be provided with some rights. They provide society at large with fruitful information that helps individuals gain knowledge of everything necessary to them. As the media provides facts, figures and data from global platforms, they should have guaranteed rights as well.

REFERENCES

[1] Mark M. Hager, Bodies Politics: The Progressive History of Organizational ‘Real Entity’ Theory, 50 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 575.

[2] State of Bombay vs. R.M.D. Chamarbaugwalla 1957 AIR 699.

[3] Bennett Coleman & Company & Others v. Union of India and Others 1973 AIR 106.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Law Commission of India (Hundred and First Law Report) on Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Constitution: Recommendation to extend it to Indian Corporations, Available at www.lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/101-169/Report 101.pdf (Accessed on 10th September 2013).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Delhi Cloth and General Mills v. Union of India AIR 1983 SC 937.

[8]https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/173762/9/09_chapter%202.pdf

[9] Manoj Kumar Sadual, Freedom of Press in Indian Constitution: A Brief Analysis, International Journal of Applied Research 2015; 1(8): 194 -198.

[10] Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. VII p 780 (2nd December 1948).

[11] Re Daily Zemmedar AIR 1947 Lah 340.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Gopal Dass v. D.M AIR 1974 SC 213.

[14] Sharma v. Srikrishna AIR 1959 SC 395.

[15] Romesh Thappar, v. State of Madras (1950) SCR 594.

[16] Bennett Coleman v. the State of J. & K (1975) Cr LJ 211.

[17] Baumgartner v. O.S., (1944) 322 US (673-74) s.

[18] Prabha v. Union of India AIR 1982 SC 6.

[19] Sakal papers v. Union of India 1962 AIR 305, 1962 SCR (3) 842.

[20] https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/102441/9/09_chapter-2.pdf.

[21] The omission was explained by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar when he observed that the press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his capacity. The editor of a press or the manager is merely exercising the right of the expression, and, therefore, no special mention is necessary for the freedom of the press.

[22] The Arushi Murder case; Nupur Talwar v. Central Bureau of Investigation and Another, AIR 2012 SC 1921. 

[23] Saibal v. B.K. Sen AIR 1961 SC 633.  

[24] http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/0158AEEE-1A16-473C-A41A-DB93A66000EB.pdf


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