Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression has emerged as a sine qua non in a democracy. The Indian Constitution guarantees this right under Article 19(1) (a) to it's citizens. Free exchange of ideas and debate are essentially required for the good governance of a country. This is where media steps in. Media has a special role to play as the guardian of democracy, as it functions as an extra parliamentary opposition to strengthen the roots of the democracy. Connecting us with the scenarios in the world and creating a vocal public opinion for realizing the goal of social and economic justice, it has become an important part of our lives.
However, with all these developments media and its powers have also been reasons of concern on various platforms. There are issues relating to media bias, personal propaganda, sensational and objective reporting of events and increased capitalist tendency of media. Such issues concerning quality of media are of great consequences to a country like India where media has a greater role to play rather than just providing information and entertainment. Consequently, the Law Commission of India has variably discussed the issues related to the media laws and also have given recommendations on the same in its consultation paper. (May, 2014).
THE EVOLVING TREND OF PAID NEWS
The democratic India has witnessed the emergence of media as the fourth important body after legislature, executive and judiciary. However, it has been constantly criticized for its tendency towards commercialism and inclination merely towards entertainment i.e. making money out of news. A recent trend that has been observed in media is the buying of news and for being in highlights by political parties which is referred to as 'paid news' by the Press Council of India. Today, as a reason of ongoing criticisms and constant competition, the political parties are more interested in manufacturing and creating news for their own good. Many suggestions have been put forth in the paper to save it from the clutches of paid news like self regulation, implementing voluntary code of conduct, promoting ethical norms and above all placing objectivity, transparency and truthfulness as the vision, mission and value of the media will put a strong resistance to the enticement for paid news culture.
The right to free speech can and should be curtailed if it has any malafide intention. This principle applies to the pre election opinion polls too. The media's job is to report on, and give its opinion on the communication. But when the media starts telling the voter who's going to win by how many seats, it starts interfering in the communication between candidates and voters. An opinion poll implies that media has already taken the opinion of the people as to which party is going to win and which is to loose and the same is reported back to the people even before they actually vote for the parties. In recent years, parties and candidates are willing to pay for advertisements suggesting that they are likely to win. This is why we have "paid news" at election time, declared as a malpractice by the Election Commission. Many questions remain about the objectiveness of the opinion polls and the methods of conducting them. Even if election forecasting through opinion polls is not to be banned, it definitely needs to be regulated.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT , 2000
Section 66A, Information Technology Act, 2000 refers to the sending of offensive or false messages through a computer device. This provision even though has been inspired by the noble objectives of protecting reputations and preventing misuse of networks, has not been able to achieve its goals and goes far beyond the reasonable restrictions on free speech as mandated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. Section 66A needs to be amended to make the cyber law in sync with the Constitution and also with the existing realities of social media.
TRIAL BY MEDIA
The media acts both as a watchdog and a platform to bring people voice to the notice of society and legislatures. Freedom of press is the freedom of people.
Some famous criminal cases would have gone unpunished but for the intervention of media the cases like Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Jessica Lal case, Nitish Katara murder case the culprits are behind the bars. However this righteousness does not embrace the freedom to commit contempt of court. There have been numerous instances in which media has been accused of conducting the trial of the accused and passing the 'verdict' even before the court passes its judgment. Media, at times completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict keeping at stake the golden principles of "presumption of innocence until proven guilty" and "guilt beyond reasonable doubts". The most suitable way to regulate the media will be to exercise the contempt jurisdiction of the court to punish those who violate the basic code of conduct. While civil contempt refers to the willful disobedience to any judgment, or order of a court, criminal contempt is an offence under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, and is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months. It is defined as the publication of any matter which lowers the authority of any court, or scandalises or tends to scandalise, prejudices or tends to prejudice, or obstructs or tends to obstruct any judicial proceedings, or the administration of justice. It is evident that this definition is extremely wide, particularly as it is unclear what the words "tends to" encompasses.
MEDIA, PRIVACY AND STING OPERATIONS
Freedom of press has been held to be a part of the fundamental right of "freedom of speech and expression" guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. It has been held that "freedom of press" is necessary for exercise of fundamental freedom of citizens of speech and expression. Though it empowers the press to disclose the information vital to public interest, it often results in the intrusion of privacy. Privacy means being aloof on some issues of personal life. But the question is, can sting operations take away this privacy and make it public? The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) justified sting operations as "illegitimate journalistic tool" and it has been found out that these sting operations are done to interest the public rather than public interest. Recommendations have been made to enact laws to prevent media from interfering with the individual privacy.
The fundamental objective of media is to serve the people with news, events, incidents and opinions in the exact manner in which they are actually happening. The freedom of press is a blessing for the people. However this blessing can go terribly wrong when manipulation and mishandling of news comes into picture. The fact that media has played a vital role in keeping a cheque on the government functionaries cannot be overlooked, but still there are a lot of loopholes and lacunas that need to be filled. Towards this end, the media's conduct is expected to be governed with certain amount of professionalism and ethics in the mind. Media should restrain itself from publication of fake, manipulated or tampered news. Further, it shall not interfere with the privacy of any individual unless there is dire need of the same in public interest. It is not only ethical but also the duty of media of any country to preserve and protect its cultural heritage and values. Media organizations should be more accountable and inclined towards the interests of the general public.
* Komal Chauhan is an Intern, 2nd year Law Student, Faculty of Law, DU.
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