The freedom of speech is considered one of the first condition of liberty. It occupies an important and preferred position in the hierarchy of liberty, It is also said that freedom of speech is the mother all liberties. Let’s us look at how India fares in this department as compared to other nations.
In the press freedom rankings-2018 released by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) India slipped two points to 138, just ahead of Pakistan. The declining trend was present in the previous year as well. India ranked 136 in 2017 slipping 3 points from the year 2016, on the World Press Freedom Index meanwhile, chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) Chandramauli Kumar Prasad rejected this worrisome trend of continued low rankings. According to him these rankings “were based on opinion or perception” and not on statistical data. This is a sad turn of events not only for the Indian press but also for Indian democracy. Since the press is considered as the fourth pillar of all healthy and true democracies.
This declining trend in India’s ranking in press freedom has been linked to the existence of a sedition law that encourages self-censorship particularly in a period of heightened nationalism. Thus the present scenario is quite grim for critical media due to the following reasons:
Now let us understand various dimensions and aspects related to Press in India: What is freedom of the press? Why we need it? What is its role and future in India? Etc.
The freedom means right and privileged to speak according to the will and express one’s opinion freely without any fear or interference.
Press and media are the vital way to express and speech some views and opinions in the democratic country. It is the medium of expressing an opinion of the people. It justifies the individual right to speech and expression, a coveted right enshrined in the Indian constitution and the law of the other country on the globe.
It implies right to information and access of pressmen to it, including the right to exposures affecting matters of public and national interests. The reporters are provided access to all the ministers and bureaucrats and enjoy the right to question and seek explanations and clarifications on specific points in course of a course of an interview or during a press conference.
All mass movements or a popular upsurge in the world have always been aided by the media especially the print media. And Indian independence struggle is no exception.
Many of the tallest leaders of the Freedom movement turned journalists. They used the press as an instrument to propagate their ideas to the masses. The following list of publications run by some of the leaders would illustrate the point:
Right from the time of India’s First War of Independence in 1857, regional journals like Payam-e-Azadi and Samachar Sudhavarshan supported the struggle for freedom. In retaliation the British hit back with the notorious Vernacular Press Act. Popularly known as the Gagging Act, it imposed innumerable restrictions on the Indian press. For instance, Amrita Bazaar Patrika faced the Government’s ire and was forced to close down in 1871.
Hence, if the press of a nation is healthy, the democratic system will be more transparent to the ground realities on side of government and what are the views and reactions of the people in respect thereof.
It is a well-established fact that the freedom of the press is very crucial for a country. But sometimes the freedom of the press is curtailed by their owners as well. Especially, in India, the press is frequently alleged for the excessive control by their owners. It is a danger for the press
The journalists are being deprived of adequate freedom for collecting and disseminating facts and offering comments due to the undue pressure of the capitalistic owners. This pressure is less in the case of newspapers which depend to a large extent on revenue from advertisements. This unofficial censorship by the economic management of the press suggests that press are not free.
The government exercises its power to restrict access to press one way or the other. It can be done in the name of official secret, top graded documents, sensitive matters, apprehension of breach of peace, ‘likely to cause’ communal disharmony and hatred between the communities and on plea of national security etc. in such cases only the version of the official agency or the specially designated unit at the state level is permitted to be published in the newspapers. The district administration if finds any news item against the public interest contained in any newspaper confiscates the entire copies of it throughout its jurisdiction. Defamatory cased are also filed against the staff reporters and representatives of the newspaper by administrative officers.
What India need the most today is a fair, impartial, and unprejudiced and honest press. The press which not dishonest or biased in the coverage of news and events connected with different socio-political quarters and the government at large. We need a press which is not subservient to the vested interests of any section. The versions of the reported news should not be tempered, distorted, sponsored, or otherwise politically initiated.
Freedom of the press, as such, is symbolic of democracy and a measure to judge the character of the State. What the world needs most today is a critical mirror of the press which reflects all that is wrong in the nation. Be it politically, socially, economically, culturally. But the current socio-political environment seems hell-bent against it. Unfortunately, the battle to keep lit the flame of dissent and spirit of inquiry is growing ever tougher day by day as pseudo nationalism takes the place of rationality.
In a country India which is not only a developing country but also one of the world’s largest democracies. The press has an even greater and bigger responsibility. Not only does the press need to fulfil its required role of dissemination of true information and opinions. But the press also has the duty to fight against backward ideas like casteism and communalism and other social evils. A large section of the people in India are backward and ignorant, so it is necessary that modern ideas are brought to them and their backwardness removed so that they become part of enlightened India. Thus, the free and fearless press plays an irreplaceable and important here. And it liberty must be protected at all costs. Government is aware of the effective and strong role of the press and can no longer afford to ignore it.
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