October 11, 2020

Role of Press and its fundamental rights

Developing countries are those which get their independence only after the Second World War. Before the War these countries were under the iron fists of the colonial powers and were exploited ruthlessly by imperialist power. Situation, however, completely changed after the World War; and one-by-one all the countries were free from colonial exploitation. When the people of the former colonies get their independence, the leaders of those countries started feeling the immediate necessity to remove the colossal poverty of the people. Thus the leaders formulated plan for the development of their country. The important function in this country was, therefore, to start planning for the economic development so that fresh wealth could be created for distribution to the people to remove their poverty. The duty of the reporters in those countries was to publicize all the details about the development program, so that people would have known what the government was doing. This is the concept of news in a developing country. In most of the newspapers, the policy that is pursued is anti-government. The policy makers or the proprietors feel that in order to increase the circulation of the paper an anti-government slant is needed while reporting activities of the government. This is seen even with regard to the reporting or developmental activities. If this policy is pursued, it ultimately creates a feeling of resentment among the masses against the government. It hampers the developmental activities of the government. It must be remembered that developmental activities are primarily at the general wellbeing of the people. If newspaper reports affect the developmental activity, ultimately common man suffers along with it.So, a change in the concept of the news is needed to expedite the development of the country. There is nothing like absolute freedom of the press. The press enjoys the same freedom of expression and with the same limitation imposed by the requirements of society as available to the common citizen as a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. Article 19(1 A) of the Constitution provides: ”All Citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. Article 19(2) recognizes the right of the State to make laws imposing reasonable restriction on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech & expression in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign nations, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offence, or sedition.
Ethical values are undergoing a change in India, but a news agency is expected to apply to itself a vigorous standard and keep out of its reports anything that can offend decency in life or manners.
A law limiting the freedom of expression whether of the common man or the press already exists and it is necessary for the reporters and editorial staffs to be familiar with the provision of these laws, specially the Indian Penal Code (IPC), in so far as they relate to the news coverage. A case of ‘defamation’ can arise over the circulation of a statement by someone containing defamatory references to another person or a corporate body. The fact to be remembered is that the person making the statement is named in the copy and is answerable for it does not get absolved. The use of adjective of defamatory nature with respect to person should be avoided in all circumstances for, however unpopular person may be, the law will always give him protection against defamation. The concepts underlying ‘Contempt of Courts Act 1971’, as the press is concerned, publication of any matter calculated to scandalize or lower the authority to any court, prejudice or interfere with the due course of judicial proceedings or interfere with or obstruct the administration of justice in any other manner constitute concept. It is not open to newspaper to publish an item charging a particular judge with corruption, whatever the circumstances, nor can his conduct in court be adversely commented upon. The purpose in arming the courts with such absolute authority to punish people for contempt is the need to maintain the dignity of the courts and to ensure that justice is administered in an atmosphere free from conflict and tension. By and large the press in India is reputed for its faithful and unbiased coverage of the proceedings of legislatures and the legislatures are generally indulgent to the press. But while they may overlook minor irritants the legislatures individually and legislature as a whole are zealous of their privilege and are bound to take note of serious transgression which includes deliberate suppression or distortion of a member’s speech or other contributions to the proceedings aspersions cast on a member’s behavior in the House, imputation of motive to him for his speech or behavior of the House. The law on obscenity is set out in Section 292 of the IPC. There is no definition as to what would amount to an obscene publication in this section, but courts, including the Supreme Court, has applied a test according to which a matter may be charged as obscene if it tends to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are opened to such moral influences. Ethical values are undergoing a change in India, but a news agency is expected to apply to itself a vigorous standard and keep out of its reports anything that can offend decency in life or manners.
(The author is Additional State Program Officer at Bihar Education Project Council. He has mailed this article for publication exclusively to “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are his own)
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