Freedom of press or media refers to the rights given by the Constitution of India under the freedom and expression of speech in Article 19(1)(a). It encourages independent journalism and promotes democracy by letting the people voice their opinions for or against the government’s actions. The media has certain rights to challenge the government and showcase the issues gaining rapid attention by the people through various sources and facts. Since the media is an independent body that challenges the government, it can be referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy alongside the judiciary, legislative and executive bodies of the government. Criticising the policies of the government is the duty of the press.
The Supreme Court on April 5 said an independent press is vital for the robust functioning of a democratic republic and its role in a democratic society is crucial for it shines a light on the functioning of the state. “The press has a duty to speak truth to power, and present citizens with hard facts enabling them to make choices that propel democracy in the right direction. The restriction on the freedom of the press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. A homogenised view on issues that range from socioeconomic polity to political ideologies would pose grave dangers to democracy,” said a bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and comprising Justice Hima Kohli on an appeal by Malayalam TV news channel MediaOne against its ban by the Centre.
The Chief Justice, who authored the 134-page judgment on behalf of the bench, further added that the critical views of the channel, MediaOne on policies of the government cannot be termed “anti-establishment” and the use of such a terminology in itself represents an expectation that the press must support the establishment. The Supreme Court also said that critical views of the channel MediaOne on policies of the government cannot be termed “anti-establishment”, as the press has a duty to speak truth to power, and also national security claims cannot be made out of thin air to ban telecast of the channel. “The state is using national security as a tool to deny citizens remedies that are provided under the law. This is not compatible with the rule of law,” the apex court said.
MediaOne had moved the Supreme Court challenging the Kerala High Court’s order upholding the Centre’s decision to ban the channel on security grounds. Last year, the Centre through the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting banned the news channel citing national security grounds. The top court in its verdict also slammed the ban. “The action of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by denying a security clearance to a media channel on the basis of the views which the channel is constitutionally entitled to hold produces a chilling effect on free speech, and in particular on press freedom. Criticism of governmental policy can by no stretch of imagination be brought within the fold of any of the grounds stipulated in Article 19(2),” said the Chief Justice.
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