Saturday, 25 February 2017

What is freedom of the Press and its importance

What is the Press?

Freedom of Press

The news media focuses on delivering news to the general public or a target public. These include print media, broadcast news, and more recently cyber media or the Internet. The print media comprises- newspapers, news magazines, broadcast news - radio and television, and more recently the Internet- online newspapers, news blogs, etc.

The Press according to Webster dictionary refers to:

a). Printing press;
b). The act or the process of printing;
c). A printing or publishing establishment;
d). The gathering and publishing or broadcasting of news :  journalism
e). Newspapers, periodicals, and often radio and television news broadcasting,
f). News reporters, publishers, and broadcasters;
g). Comment or notice in newspapers and periodicals

The word press refers to a printing press.

a). The Press as an establishment where printing is done;
b). The Press as a medium for publication;
c). The products of printing such as newspapers pamphlets etc;
d). Those who engage in production of such foregoing articles- editors, printers, publishers, journalists;
e). The Press as a medium of expression, publicity, criticism etc.

What are Press Laws?

Press Laws

The expression Press law commonly refers to a special law directed towards those who are concerned with curtailing the printing and publication of printed matter. Historically, the agitation for freedom of the Press began with protestations against such special laws.
Press Emergency Power Act (1931), the Press Objectionable Matter Act (1951) and the Emergency period- the Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matters Act (1976), none of these laws exist in modern day governance. Though there is no longer any such repressive union law directed against the Press, there are certain regulatory measures such as the Press and Registration Books Act (1867) and even beneficial measures such as the Working Journalists Act. Besides all of these acts, there are certain criminal laws which affect all offenders, whether engaged under the Press or not.

What is Freedom of the Press?
According to Durga Das Basu, “Freedom of Press today means absence of interference by the state with the Press, except in so far as it is authorised by the constitution, and by laws which are constitutionally valid.”
Freedom of the Press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication and expression through media including various electronic media and published materials. While such freedom mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state, its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections.
With respect to governmental information, any government may distinguish which materials are public or protected from disclosure to the public based on classification of information as sensitive, classified or secret and being otherwise protected from disclosure due to relevance of the information to protecting the national interest. Many governments are also subject to sunshine laws or freedom of information legislation that are used to define the ambit of national interest.
‘Freedom’of the Press means absence of control, interference or restriction. Hence, the expression freedom of the Press means the right to print and publish without any interference from the state or any public authority. This freedom, like other freedoms cannot be absolute and is subjected to well-known exceptions acknowledged in public interest, which in India are enumerated in Article 19 of the Constitution. Since in India freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and it has been held by the SC  that freedom of the Press is included in that wider guarantee, it is unnecessary to plead for freedom of the Press in this country.

Why freedom of the Press is important?

The arguments in favour of freedom of the Press are the same as that for freedom of speech and expression, with a stronger appeal ringing from the special features of printed matter.
A printed matter records the ideas in a permanent form which speech cannot.
Newspaper and books have a larger reach and wider circulation.

What has been said in the U.S.A is true for all modern day democracies

The newspapers, magazines and other journals of the country…have shed and continued to shed more light on the public and business affairs of the nation than any other instrumentality of publicity…”
As 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution states, the Press is an institution has no constitutional or legal privileges. What is known as freedom of the Press is freedom of speech and expression of every individual which includes-
1. The right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public, or the right to impart information and ideas.
2. The right to receive information and ideas from others through any lawful means.
3. Growth of the Press has come to be recognised as an institutional limb of the country and the modern day democracy. Ideologically, indispensability of the Press for proper functioning is so much embedded in US that Jefferson once said that if he had to choose between a government without newspapers, on the one hand and newspapers without government on the other, he would have no hesitation in preferring the latter.
4. If democracy means government by the people themselves- whether directly or through representatives elected on the basis of public issues, the people must be allowed freedom to discuss the issues and express their judgments. The state can punish offences but not the participation of the people in the government of the country. The basic principle of democracy being that “in government of deliberative forces shall prevail over the arbitrary”  public discussion becomes a political duty and the “greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.”
5. Representative democracy, the foundation of which is free elections based on reason cannot function in society where there is no freedom of speech.

Mere freedom of election is not enough if there is no Press to criticize the programme and action of the party in power and the parties in opposition are not allowed to represent their alternative programmes before the people, on the basis of which they can exercise their choice at elections efficiently. In other words an electorate is not free unless informed, and an informed electorate is dependent upon access to all shades of political opinion, which conversely means an opportunity for all groups to take their message to the electorate. Government of the people by the people themselves cannot function unless the people are well informed and free to participate in public issues by having the widest choice of alternative problems that arise.

Freedom of the Press in short forecloses the state from assuming ‘a guardianship of the public mind’ “Authority is to be controlled by the public opinion, not public opinion by the authority.”