Is there really freedom of the press in India? There are currently two or three critical websites towards India’s Government, and their journalists have faced penalties. Besides, freelance journalists who speak out against the government also face the consequences such as imprisonment or punishment.
According to the World Press Freedom Index, India ranks on 142nd on the list among other 180 countries in the annual Reporters without Borders analysis, released this year. Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution provides the right to freedom of speech and expression. It is considered as one of the essential rights given as a privilege to the citizens of the country. But at the same time, the right comes with certain parameters to reduce other disputable issues.
Since the right has to be practiced within the boundaries, journalists are an easy target, because of them being vocal for the cases where others choose to be quiet for selective reasons. Sarthak Arora, currently working for Express India News as a journalist said, “Journalists are an easy target for all the people who are powerful and spread hooliganism. You can take the recent case of Charlie Hebdo as an example. In spite of figuring the danger we are getting into, journalists pen down the reality and portray it as their weapon. This is the reason why many of them want to stop the voice of journalists. It’s done either by road accident or by dropping a parcel or a letter as a threat or is killed.” He further added, “We all have voice but only journalists know how to use it. Hence they face these dangers.”
His opinion on freedom of speech in India is, “Freedom of speech in India is a complete lie. Be it any political party, until journalists are speaking for them, they are supported. Murder of journalists like Gauri lankesh, Safdar Hashmi, Jyotirmoy Dey speaks truth about the treatment towards the journalists. He further discussed by giving examples that how fundamentalist organizations leaked Ravish Kumar’s (Indian Journalist) contact number and he had to face inane kind of phone calls whereas Aseem Trivedi faced serious allegations of sedition IPC 124A because his cartoons.”
Journalists are expected to be unbiased and to put things out in front of people in an untouched way. They are not supposed to favor anybody in any means. Journalists are in a vulnerable space carrying out the dangerous jobs of bringing out the truth in any possible case.
Anany Bhatnagar, who is working as a legal correspondent with a news agency said, “A true journalist is someone who is aware about the news story that they are about to cover. Secondly, one has to be unbiased and should report the true side of the story. Journalist should investigate and investigation shall be in such a way that it is not hampering anyone else like intruding into privacy should not count under investigation. One has to always remember what is right and what is wrong and should always report what is right.”
One such example is of a news story covered by Anany Bhatnagar that reads, Delhi High Court declined to entertain the request made by Zee Media Corporation to place in “sealed cover” the name of the journalist who produced the disclosure statement of Delhi riots accused Asif Iqbal Tanha. The request of Zee Media Corporation’s counsel Vijay aggarwal was that his client should be allowed to disclose the name of the concerned journalist in a sealed cover as revealing his name openly would risk his life and his family. Whereas the bench said, “I am not accepting anything in a sealed cover” and asked the media outlet to file an affidavit disclosing the source of the disclosure statement.
It was announced when the bench was hearing the petition filed by Jamia Millia Islamia students and 2020 Delhi Riots accused Asif Iqbal Tanha stating that he is disturbed with the media reporting that he has confessed of being a part in setting up the Delhi Riots in the custody of police. While the court further cleared that the confessional statements which are not in public domain cannot be accessed and published.
“Freedom of speech is one of the most important fundamental rights because if you are not expressing yourself that it is a bigger issue, there might be larger consequences to it. When we are talking about freedom of speech, we should remember there are some boundaries to all the fundamental rights that we have and so does this one. We shall think before talking and we shall be well aware of what we are talking about. And everything we write or talk about shall be supported by valid reasons or examples for that matter”, said Anany Bhatnagar.
According to him, “Being critical towards government is not wrong. There is a difference between abusing and criticizing, we shall remember that. Criticizing can really help them improve, but we shall know what we are talking about and there should be right choice of words. We shall maintain the decorum while being critical.”
According to a report by New Delhi-based human rights think tank Rights and Risks Analysis group listed over 50 journalists facing criminal charges, violence and other forms of consequences for their work. The right puts a person in an individual space where one has the option to support the opinion either by valid sources and reasons or by promoting any specific narrative. No doubt, right has been exploited several times, but it is misinterpreted even for more, which gave power to the authorities to regulate journalists while doing their work.
Freedom of Speech brings transparency between citizens and government that has to be protected for the sake of us being a largest democracy in the world.
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