Date: 10 December, 2020
by Shwas Bajaj, UILS, Panjab University
In the Freedom of Speech and Expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, unlike the American Constitution, the liberty of the press has not been specifically provided for.
The omission was explained by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar when he observed: “The press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his individual capacity. The editor of a press or the manager are merely exercising the right of the expression, and, therefore, no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the press.”
It is thus settled law that the freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(a) includes the liberty of the press. This liberty has been held to be one of the great bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic Government.
VARIOUS ASPECTS OF FREEDOM OF PRESS
1. No pre-Censorship on Press: The freedom of the press means the right to print and publish what one pleases, without any previous permission. Imposition of pre-censorship on publication is, therefore, violative of the freedom of press, unless justified under Clause (2) of Article 19.
2. No Pre-Stoppage of Publication on Matters of Public Importance: In Virendra v. State of Punjab (AIR 1957 SC 896), the Supreme Court held that banning of publication in the newspapers of its own views or the views of correspondents of the burning topic of the day was “a serious encroachment on the valuable and cherished right to freedom of speech and expression.”
3. Freedom of Circulation: The freedom of speech and expression of the press is ensured by the freedom of circulation. In Romesh Thaper v. State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 124), the Supreme Court held that, “Liberty of circulation is as essential to that freedom as the liberty of publication. Indeed, without circulation, the publication would be of little value.”
4. Freedom in the Volume of News or Views: In Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India (AIR 1962 SC 305), the Supreme Court held that the right to propagate the ideas guaranteed in Article 19(1)(a) extended not merely to the matter to which it was entitled to circulate but also to the volume of circulation.
LIMITATIONS OF THE FREEDOM OF PRESS
The freedom of the press is not absolute, just as the freedom of expression is not. Public Interest has to be safeguard by article 19(1)(2) which lays down reasonable limitations to the freedom of expression in matters affecting:
a. Sovereignty and integrity of the State
b. Security of the State
c. Friendly relations with foreign countries
d. Public order
e. Decency and morality
f. Contempt of court
h. Incitement to an offence
CONSTITUTION (FIRST AMENDMENT) ACT, 1951
Article 19(2), as it was initially worded, gave protection to a law relating to a matter which undermines the security of, or to overthrow the State and not relating to 'public order'. Article 19(2) was then amended by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, so as to extend the protection to a law relating to public order. The consequence is that the mention of different grounds in clause (2) which could be brought under the general head 'public order' in its most comprehensive sense, indicates that they must be ordinarily intended to exclude each other. In this context 'public order' would be understood in the limited sense excluding all other purposes and synonymous with public peace, safety and tranquillity.
Article 19(2) in its original form did not have the word 'reasonable' before the word 'restriction', and it was inserted by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. The result is that a law is protected insofar as it imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of rights conferred by article 19(l). To the extent a restriction is reasonable it becomes a justiciable issue.
The freedom of press is essential for the proper functioning of the democratic process. Democracy means Government of the people, by the people and for the people; it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his right of making a choice, free and general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential. This explains the constitutional viewpoint of the freedom of press in India.
The fundamental principle which was involved in freedom of press is the “people’s right to know”. It therefore received generous support from all those who believe in the free flow of the information and participation of the people in the administration; it is the primary duty of all national courts to uphold this freedom and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with this freedom, contrary to the constitutional mandate.
Therefore, in view of the observations made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in various judgments and the views expressed by various jurists, it is crystal clear that the freedom of the press flows from the freedom of expression which is guaranteed to “all citizens” by Article 19(1)(a).
Press stands on no higher footing than any other citizen and cannot claim any privilege (unless conferred specifically by law), as such, as distinct from those of any other citizen. The press cannot be subjected to any special restrictions which could not be imposed on any citizen of the country.