The primary aim of journalism is to provide the people with news, views, comments and information on matters that are of public importance in a manner that is fair, unbiased and accurate. The influence of media extends to a large variety of people and helps in shaping their views and thoughts and thus, it becomes even more important to include proper information and not lose sight of the privileges, duties and obligations of mediapersons. It can be aptly said that the media of a country determines the perception and the outlook of its citizens and thus the role of the people associated with this noble profession, i.e. reporters, editors, camera persons and news anchors is of utmost importance and should have special privileges.

However, in order to enjoy the privileges granted to the media, they have to adhere to certain norms in collecting and distributing the information, which include ensuring that the news is authentic and from reliable sources, usage of language that is socially acceptable and the news must be fair and well thought out keeping in mind the cascading effect it tends to have on the society as well as individuals concerned.

The Press Council of India has time and again sought to promote the standards of the media by coming up with and modifying various codes of conduct. They are various norms that journalists must abide by in order to avoid potential conflicts. Some of these include-

  • The news given by the press shall be accurate and fair and all the sides of the subject matter should be reported without bias. Any wrongdoing that comes forth must be backed by irrefutable facts and evidences.
  • There should be no publication of anything that constitutes as defamatory or libellous against any institution or individual unless after due consideration, there is sufficient reason to believe that it is true. 
  • The Press is not entitled to evade the right to privacy of any individual unless there is an overriding interest of public. 
  • There should be no instance of the Press tape-recording anyone’s conversation without the permission of that individual. 

These are just a few instances, however, there exist a lot more conditions set by the Press Council of India which is a self-regulated body that operates under the Press Council Act, 1978 and it is essential that the Press and journalists follow the rules set by them. 

Freedom of Press

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution defines the scope of the right to freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right. However, there is no provision that expressly provides for the freedom of press but it is implied within the ambit of freedom of speech and expression granted in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. This freedom includes within its ambit the right to express one’s opinions freely by speaking, writing, printing pictures or in any other manner. The freedom of media is extremely important as it lays the basis for democratic polity and is also considered to be a vital pillar for a free society. It is also an important instrument for bringing about social and political changes. However, this does not give an unabridged right to the press to speak without responsibility and there are indeed certain restrictions that must be considered. It was held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India (1986 AIR 515) that the role of the press is extremely significant in the democratic machinery. It is the duty of the courts to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that interfere with that freedom. There are three essential aspects of freedom of press which are- freedom of access to all sources of information, freedom of publication and freedom of circulation. 

However, recently the Media or Press has seen a lot of controversies come its way and has been charged with various lawsuits for speaking about important issues. The media is not always at fault and has Freedom of Press as granted under Section 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Thus, there are certain defences available to journalists, news anchors and news channels. The integrity and the security of the Press and Media are pivotal for any democracy and cannot be compromised with.

Legal Defences available to Journalists, News Anchors & News Channels:  

  • In Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 124), it was held that since the word ‘sedition’ was removed from the predecessor to Article 19(2), it can be inferred that Article 19(1)(a) includes within its ambit the freedom to criticize the government. 
  • The Press has a limited right to conduct interviews if there is consent from the person being interviewed. This was held in Sheela Barse v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 373
  • The Press also has privilege with respect to reporting judicial proceedings so as to keep the system transparent and build confidence in the law and order system of the country. This was stated in Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1967 SC 1.
  • There is also a right to accurately report the proceedings of the Parliament or state assemblies subject to the privileges of the legislator. This was held in Tej Kiran Jain v. N. Sanjiva Reddy (1970) 2 SCC 272.  

Thus, it can be seen that while there are certain restrictions on the Press, there is also freedom to exercise their right to freedom and expression. It is advisable that they exercise it in the right manner while following the guidelines laid down by the Press Council of India. 

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Anant Sharma is Advocate & Managing Partner at K & S Legal L.L.P and Co-Founder & Convenor at My Lawyers Advice.

The co-author of this article, Ankita Sethi, is a fourth year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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