Freedom of Expression  Press

Freedom of expression refers to the ability of an individual or group of individuals to express their beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and emotions about different issues free from government censorship. ... Some scholars group several of those freedoms under the general term “freedom of expression.”

Nov 4, 2020 - 03:48
Nov 12, 2020 - 15:07

Freedom of Expression  

The Constitution of India contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution. The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees the freedom of speech and expression, as one of the following six freedoms.

In a landmark judgment of the case Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also.

The constitution of India does not specifically mention the freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is implied from Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.

Thus the press is subject to the restrictions that are providing under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

Before Independence, there was no constitutional or statutory provision to protect the freedom of the press. Freedom of press has been included as part of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations).

The heart of the Article 19 says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

" In Romesh Thapar v. the State of Madras, Patanjali Shastri, CJ observed: "Freedom of speech and of the press laid at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.

" The Supreme Court observed in Union of India vs. Assn. for Democratic Reforms: "Onesided information, disinformation, misinformation and non-information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions".

In Indian Express vs. Union of India, it has been held that the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. The courts have the duty to uphold the freedom of the press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that abridge that freedom. Freedom of the press has three essential elements.

They are

  • freedom of access to all sources of information,
  • freedom of publication, and
  • freedom of circulation. 

In India, the press has not been able to exercise its freedom to express popular views.

In Sakal Papers Ltd. vs. Union of India, the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960, which fixed the number of pages and size which a newspaper could publish at a price was held to be violative of freedom of press and not a reasonable restriction under the Article 19(2). Similarly,

in Bennett Coleman and Co. vs. Union of India, the validity of the Newsprint Control Order, which fixed the maximum number of pages, was struck down by the Court holding it to be violative of the provision of Article 19(1)(a) and not to be reasonable restriction under Article 19(2). The Court struck down the plea of the Government that it would help small newspapers to grow.

In Romesh Thapar vs. the State of Madras (1950 SCR 594, 607; AIR 1950 SC 124), entry and circulation of the English journal "Cross Road", printed and published in Bombay, was banned by the Government of Madras. The same was held to be violative of the freedom of speech and expression, as "without liberty of circulation, the publication would be of little value".

In Prabha Dutt vs. Union of India ((1982) the Supreme Court directed the Superintendent of Tihar Jail to allow representatives of a few newspapers to interview Ranga and Billa, the death sentence convicts, as they wanted to be interviewed. There are instances when the freedom of the press has been suppressed by the legislature. The authority of the government, in such circumstances, has been under the scanner of the judiciary.

In the case of Brij Bhushan vs. the State of Delhi (AIR 1950 SC 129), the validity of censorship previous to the publication of an English Weekly of Delhi, the Organiser was questioned. The court struck down the Section 7 of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1949, which directed the editor and publisher of a newspaper "to submit for scrutiny, in duplicate, before the publication, till the further orders, all communal matters all the matters and news and views about Pakistan, including photographs, and cartoons", on the ground that it was a restriction on the liberty of the press. Similarly, prohibiting a newspaper from publishing its own views or views of correspondents about a topic has been held to be a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression.

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