Role of Press, its fundamental rights
Er. Prabhat Kishore
Developing countries are those which got independence only after the Second World War. Before the War, these countries were under the iron fists of the colonial powers and were ruthlessly exploited by the 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 got 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 economic development of their country, 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 programme, so that people would know 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 of 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 based on the general wellbeing of the people. If newspaper reports affect the developmental activity, ultimately the 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 restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech & expression in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign nations, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offence, or sedition.
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 staff 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’ may arise over the circulation of a statement containing defamatory references by someone to another person or a corporate body. The fact to be remembered is that the name of the person making the statement is in the copy and he is answerable for not being acquitted. 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 legislature 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, have 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 a vigorous standard for itself and keep out of its reports anything that can offend decency in life or manners.
(The author is a technocrat and an academician. He holds Master in Engineering from M.N. Regional Engineering College, Allahabad/Prayagraj)