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The myth of Freedom of Press
June, 07th 2008

Freedom of the press, gagging of the press are some of the expressions we hear quite often. With the TOI issue hitting headlines globally, these expressions are being heard daily from many people ranging from journalists to social activities. Is there any Freedom of Press? The question is not a sarcastic one. It is a question in all sincerity. The answer is big NO.

Ahmedabad edition of the Times of India is in trouble for running a campaign against police commissioner of Ahmedabad. Today, when the Commissioner has initiated legal action against the local editor and correspondent, there is hue and cry from the TOI and social activists. The protest against police move is riding the slogan of Freedom of Press. 

The fact is that the Constitution of India has freedom of Expression and Speech as Fundamental Rights. But there is no mention of press. It does not give a special right to the press but lets it draw its freedom from within the Article 19, which provides all citizens with the right to freedom of speech and expression.

On the other hand, the US Constitution has an explicit concept of Freedom of Press Very first amendment of its Constitution - First Amendment to the US Constitutions - lays down specifically that the freedom of press be in no way abridged by the laws. Even when it concerns the very security of the Nation, Federal Courts in the USA have invoked the First Amendments to secure the freedom of the press.

In the cases of New York Times and The Washington Post, when the USA Government sought to prevent the publication of highly sensitive "History of Decision making Process on Vietnam Policy", through injunctions from the Courts, the District Courts of Southern District of New York in case of NYT and the District of Columbia Circuit in the case of Washington Post, on the ground of National Security, both the courts ruled against the Government. Eventually, when the case came up before the US Supreme Court, it also ruled against the Government.

In India, Even the Freedom of speech and Expression is not absolute. There are certain conditions in which a citizen cannot use this freedom. This is about the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to offence.

This is not that framers of the Constitution did not think about the Freedom of Press. Infact they debated the issue a lot. Nehru wanted Freedom of Press like the US. It is not that the Indian leaders not aware of the US First Amendment or of the famous declaration of President Jefferson. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru shares the views of Jefferson when he said, "I would rather have a completely free press, with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of the freedom, than suppress or regulated Press". But sentiments, however high its origin, do not always translate into laws, as the laws of the land stand today.

However, Dr. B R Ambedkar and others had different views. Speaking on behalf of the Drafting Committee, its Chairman Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said that the Press was merely another way of denoting an individual or a citizen. He said: "The Press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his individual capacity. The editor of a press or the manager of a press are ail citizens and therefore when they choose to write in newspapers they are merely exercising their right of expression and in my judgment therefore, no special mention is necessary of the Freedom of the Press at all. The word expression that is used in Article 19(1) is comprehensive enough to cover the Press.

In such a situation talk of Freedom of Press does not mean anything. How can we talk about a thing which does not exist in the Constitution?

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