Should there be a limit to Media Freedom?
From every mountainside, let freedom ring. An iconic quote said by one of the most noteworthy advocates of liberating a community and introducing them to the true meaning of ‘freedom‘, Sir Martin Luther King.
‘Freedom’ a term loosely used in millennial lingo now but something which held great meaning for people who experienced the loss of it in real terms and sacrificed a lot for it to exist, the sacrifices were as big as sacrificing their own lives for people of their kin to live without the fear of ‘not being free’.
India having an extensive history of undergoing ‘constrictions’ under the ‘colonial rule’ was incentive enough for the authorities who came into power after the long-drawn ‘Freedom struggle’ against the atrocities of the British colony.
This long drawn colonial rule also set an example of ‘how not to do things’ establishing Democracy in the nation and the first step to achieve it was the initiation of ‘The Constitution of India’ – the constitution primarily meant to demarcate fundamental political code, structure, procedures and powers, most importantly it laid down the duties of a citizen. The constitution was also integral because it laid down a basic set of rules for every citizen which marked them as an equal in the country, these basic set of rules were also known as the ‘fundamental rights‘.
The fundamental rights are the backbone of running a democratic society and every right adds value to the whole functioning of the system, one of which is called ‘The Right to Freedom‘ and under it comes one of the most important tools for running any democratic society ‘The Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’ which states – any individual can openly share his or her views, with some reasonable restrictions. It is an essential right in a democracy and is granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India to the people of India. It upholds the ‘liberty of thought and expression’ principle provided in the preamble.
This article shall be dealing with a holistic approach towards media and whether freedom should be curtailed or not at grass root level despite the malpractices present today.
History of Indian Media
Indian Media is among the oldest and largest in the world, it has been free and independent throughout most of its history, even before the establishment of the Indian empire by Ashoka the Great on the foundation of righteousness, openness, morality and spirituality. The Bengal Gazette was one of the first newspapers introduced in the subcontinent by James Augustus Hickey in 1780, it was a two-sheet newspaper which focussed on writing the private lives of Sahibs of the company, which later led him to penury and several years of jail.
Other notable newspapers introduced during the colonial rule were the Madras Courier, Bombay Herald etc. After the Independence in 1947, most newspapers became self-sufficient, English newspapers were still prominent. The year 1959 was monumental as the first public service broadcaster was launched, ‘DOORDARSHAN’. An organization was also set up called the ‘Press Council Of India’ a mechanism for the press to regulate itself.
Along the course of India’s democracy, there were representatives of various parties who came into power and showcased some monumental leaderships which marked great significance on the history of Indian Democracy.
One such monumental leader was Indira Gandhi. She was an enigmatic personality with a strong lineage filled political leaders like her father Jawaharlal Nehru who was also the First Prime Minister of the nation and an avid member of the freedom struggle against the colonial rule over India.
Indira Gandhi’s initial identity was being the daughter of a revolutionary politician but later she made a mark for herself and became the first female Prime Minister. Her reign was a peculiar one where initially it was a complete compromise to come into power as the Prime Minister after the untimely demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri, a reign which was meant to be accidental turned into a three tenure one with her leadership, but during this time there were various obstacles like the divide of the Congress party and a lot of opposition against her regime.
During the 1975 elections, she won with a majority but her joy was short-lived when her Socialist party opponent charged her of malpractices during the elections where the Allahabad High court charged against her and deprived her of her seat and she had to stay out of politics for 6 years. She tried to seek help from the Supreme Court but to no avail when she decided to take matters into her own hands and declared a nationwide state of Emergency.
‘The President has proclaimed Emergency. There is nothing to panic about’, declared Indira Gandhi on All India Radio. While things changed overnight and India was in the face of a Constitutional crisis during the Emergency, the Press freedom was one that took a dark turn. With the freedom of speech being suspended as a fundamental right, the printing presses were raided and for the next two days, the newspapers went out of circulation. Many media networks were raided off of the privileges of ‘free press‘ which was the initial idea of the nation and faced scrutiny under the draconian policies of ‘Emergency‘, publishers like Himmat, Swarajya, Frontier, Sadhana experienced the wrath and were threatened and put in jail.
The first publications to take a step against the draconian laws were ‘the Stateman‘ and ‘The Indian Express‘ who kept their editorial page empty to showcase the plight of the Indian Media under such rule where the ideals of their functioning of ‘free press‘ were tampered with. This incident is one of the biggest landmarks to establish the relationship between Indian democracy, the fundamental rights and the Media.
Democracy has been told to have ‘three‘ pillars – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary but in recent years another pillar has been introduced which is ‘Media‘, this brings in focus the importance of freedom of media for the functioning of a ‘democratic nation’.
But, with great power comes great responsibility and it is safe to say that the initial purpose of the media has fizzled down somewhere, in recent times a popular phrase has surfaced, stating that today’s ‘Journalism is Dead’. An organization which was once independent, fearless and self-sufficient has now become another pawn, the information given focusing only on the prerogative of the ruling party and fluctuating as per the changing dynamics of the power equations in the nation or in easier terms the changing governments. With the power to influence the opinions of millions of people, biased news changes many perspectives and brings forth one-dimensional information being oblivious to the other intricacies of the story.
Alongside that, the use of vile and derogatory language influences a lot of people to do the same. Media today is dead but with conscious efforts as individuals seeking justice for every person in the country barring any political agenda, it can be resurrected and function as the fourth and most powerful pillar of Democracy.
The influence as well as the impact of information provided by the media is a huge matter of debate in current times. The intrusion of Media is an ethical dilemma for developing countries all over the globe. It is never a neutral activity to educate individuals’ consciences and help shape their thought. It requires a determination of media owners, editors, and journalists to discharge their duties in a manner that balances commercial imperatives, human rights, social responsibility, and national vision. These pros and cons of media trials have been discussed in this paper in depth. Freedom of speech is the basic right of each and every individual, however, the same come up with reasonable restrictions and protocols. Like we always say that too much freedom could be easily misused in the name of law and many such cases are witnessed every day.