Online Freedom of Expression and The Targeting of Journalists

By Ravi Shandilkar, 5th year law student, NRI college, Bhopal

Expression is a matter of right, liberty and freedom. The liberty of opinions, thoughts,  criticism and right to information are the various sources of expression. Freedom of Speech and expression is the root of democracy, where people are set free to express, circulate or publish their opinions, views and ideas regarding any subject matter in the newspaper or on the internet. After the advent of the Internet this Right was given a wider connotation by the Judiciary. The Internet proved to be a great stage where people exercised Free Speech & Expression and raised their voices for noble causes and for National or International problems having sensitivity. The rapid growth of the Internet, stories, and humour are bound to cause numerous constitutional implications. Freedom of speech, right to privacy, right to information, and property rights are some key issues that are presently being debated by the people in the groups.

Public officials throughout the region have initiated criminal proceedings against internet users, and  predominantly against users and/or journalists opposed to the ruling party. Claims against these  internet content contributors are based on defamation laws, which has included some charges raised against so-called ‘memes’ which parody political personalities. Data provided by Google shows that, with a few country exceptions, from 2015 to 2019 online content removal requests by governments have been raised. A similar trend as exhibited by Facebook and Twitter.

In India, months after Twitter and other social media platforms removed content related to the COVID-19 pandemic following a government order. Around hundred posts and URLs have been taken down after the Indian government asked them to remove content that was inappropriate for the handling of the current medical crisis or spreading fake news around the pandemic. The White House stated that the move was not aligned with America’s view of freedom of speech around the world. This is how Indian government suppresses their citizens freedom of speech & expression unlike other countries.

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Editorial profession with free expression which pertain to working journalists as either an individual or group of people right regulating ties among both reporters and public and private officials, along with the proprietors of the press itself, free press, on the other hand, as an economic consideration, is a most highly skilled requirement for intellectual labour. Maintaining democracy requires freedom of speech and preservation of the public domain, including the press, especially from forms of censorship arising from the exploitation of intellectual labour from those who own or control the media. The press is such a major part of the daily lifestyle routine of today’s residents and it is the basis of essentially all the facts, if the news information is not provided completely or truthfully or concisely then the people are left ignorant or uneducated.

Presently the press freedom may be considered as the broken pillar of India’s democracy. Constitution of India Article 19(1)(a) grants citizens the basic human right of expression and speech. Forty years ago in the Lok Sabha, the former Minister of Information and Broadcasting, L K Advani clearly and unequivocally stated that “the government doesn’t believe in either press control, passive or exclusive, coarse or discreet”. No doubt freedom of speech & expression are the cornerstone of a democratic and welfare society, without this right the  democratic nature of our nation as provided in the Preamble will become a deadlock. The  primary principle of a democratic society is an untrammelled flow of words in an open discussion.

Rights under Article 19(1) (a) are subject to limitations imposed under Article 19(2) which empowers the State to put up ‘reasonable’ restrictions on various grounds and citizens shall be imprisoned from exercising this Right, namely, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement of offence, and integrity and sovereignty of India.

“Journalism is defined as the art and science of using words for the communication of news items.” – Robert Schmuh

Information is powerful in this futuristic society. Ours is an age of information. There is a saying that the media makes the man. Today, safety and security of journalists/media professionals are crucial elements for safeguarding the right of the people to be informed. Any acts of violence against journalists or media professionals, in relation to their work is a direct violation of peoples’ right to be informed.

In comparison to the other countries, the Indian state is undergoing intermittent but strong censorship. There are few examples of being coerced into silent obedience by the free press. The raids by CBI, alleging charges of suspected corruption and bank fraud, against the founders of NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy, are seen as among the most brazen assaults on press freedom. The murder of liberal journalist Gauri Lankesh editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a weekly newspaper has too risen as among the country’s biggest divisive and controversial topics.

In the landmark judgment of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Justice P N Bhagwati held that “Democracy is based essentially on free debate and open discussion, for that, is the only corrective of government action in a democratic setup. So if democracy means the government of the people by the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and to enable him to intelligently exercise his rights of making a choice, free and general discussion of public matters is essential”.

Political parties misused the police machinery across the length and breadth of India to curtail the freedom of Speech and expression. Recently Mr Arnab Goswami, a news channel anchor has been arrested in one abatement of suicide case. The question is being raised against government intention because Mr Arnab Goswami has asked some of the toughest questions to the present Government of Maharashtra under the MVA (Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, a state-level political coalition formed after the 2019 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly election). The reopening of a case on executive order and arrest of Mr. Goswami by police in a case closed by the court of law in itself is bad in law. This is not a novelty and this is not exclusive to the Government of Maharashtra.

Thus we have seen multiple F.I.R. ‘s against journalists by the State of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi and so on. It will not be wrong to say that the fight is also for narrative and every political party in a different region in power with control of police machinery wants the media to follow the narrative of the ruling party of the state. News media need to stick to the core principles like truth and accuracy, transparency, independence, fairness and impartiality, responsibility and fair play. Finally, one should be careful while limiting the freedom of expression. Already there are restrictions provided by the Constitution, and any further regulation will only damage a free and liberal society. There is a need to make a distinction between people and ideas and let us all be open for criticism of ideas.

LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/in/ravishandilkar

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