The Media in India is Largely Free, But is it Largely Fair?Is there a need to regulate content of the broadcast media? Does it not amount to pre-censorship if the government or any regulatory body is made to vet all content to be broadcast? Does this not infringe upon the freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 19(1)(a)?
By Sunil Garodia
Led by Common Cause, a slew of petitions were pending in the Supreme Court demanding that the government regulate the content being broadcast in the media. Advocate Prashant Bhushan made a strong plea for a regulator, saying that self-regulation has not worked in India. He also said that the I & B ministry had failed to protect the interests and basic rights of the audience.
The Court was not impressed with his arguments. It took the stand that such a direction would amount to pre-censorship and would violate Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. This interpretation of Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution is in line with earlier judgments. As far back as 1950, in the case Brij Bhusan and Anr vs State of Delhi, the apex court had categorically stated that The imposition of pre-censorship on a journal is a restriction on the liberty of the press which is an essential part of the right to freedom of speech and expression declared by art. 19(1)(a).
However, the Bench noted that the government is required to frame the statutory mechanism for redressal of complaints against contents of private TV channels and radio stations. It said that rules under Section 22 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act should be framed so that a definite regime is in place with regard to the time limit for filing and deciding complaints and filing of appeals by the aggrieved parties, among other things.
Otherwise too, apart from some cases of preventive custody, most crimes are actionable only when they have taken place and a complaint has been registered. News broadcast cannot be any different. It cannot be said on pre-censorship that any news cannot be published as it has the potential of creating trouble. Once an offending news or opinion is broadcast, there exists a mechanism by which the aggrieved party can get redress. Complaints can be lodged with the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council or the Press Council. The government has no role to play in this and should desist from taking up the mantle.
In these difficult times when one is either a bhakt or a presstitude, it is all the more necessary that the media is allowed to maintain its independence. Criticism of government is just a matter of difference of opinion and not opposition. The media must always maintain fairness in its views. However, it is not for the government to throttle independence of the media by trying to put pressure on those who it sees are regularly opposing its policies. A free and fair media is a pillar of strength to a democratic society. But in these difficult times, the media also needs to introspect and see whether it is performing its duties in an objective manner. The media in India is largely free but it is debatable whether it is also largely fair.