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In recent weeks, Pakistan has been thoroughly criticized by the global community. It is alleged that the ruling dispensation is systematically silencing the opposition through selective crackdown on media houses. In fact, two interviews of opposition leaders were taken off air while another was cancelled at the last minute.
Silencing of media is also not unknown within our communist neighbour country, that is, China. Independent journalists who report against repressive state actions are often intimidated by force. Their social accounts are deleted and they are pushed out of service. In this light, it is imperative to examine the freedom of press in our own country.
What does Indian law say about freedom of press?
Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right under article 19 of the constitution. The term ‘freedom of press’ is not explicitly mentioned but it is derived from this article. Dr Ambedkar had clarified that no such mention is needed because the press and an individual share the same freedom of expression.
The Supreme Court of India also recognized as far back as in 1950 that freedom of press is an essential part of article 19. Justice Patanjali has very wisely observed that “freedom of speech and expression includes the propagation of ideas, and that freedom is ensured by the freedom of circulation”. Therefore, it is clear that within reasonable restrictions, freedom of press is an intrinsic value of Indian democracy.
Where does India stand in practice?
According to a report by Reporters Without Borders released in April 2019, India is ranked very poorly at 140th out of 180 countries in press freedom index. At least six journalists were killed in the line of their work in 2018. The report also finds that “hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear around the world, especially at the time of elections”.
These facts highlight the many dangers that Indian journalists face. There have been many coordinated hate campaigns even against reputed journalists who dare speak against the popular narrative, especially against the Hindutva narrative in recent times. Therefore, it can be inferred that the promise of freedom of press only exists on paper in India.
Freedom of press is protected as a fundamental right in India. This freedom is essential to preserve the democratic way of life. However, it is seen that this right is being denied in real life and only exists on paper. Governments in power frequently influence public opinion by censoring the media. Press is considered the 4th pillar of democracy, and if this pillar is in danger, then democracy ipso facto is in danger.