Press, Censorship & Propaganda
By Byomakesha Kumar Singh
"The press [is] the only tocsin of a nation. [When it] is completely silenced... all means of a general effort [are] taken away." --Thomas Jefferson
Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy. It helps in spreading news, seeking opinions of every person of a country, criticizing the bad moves taken by the government, etc. In this way, it ensures that democracy is alive in a country.
Freedom of press is given under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution under which it is given that the press has right to freedom. In Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, Patanjali Shastri,CJ, observed that “Freedom of speech & of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organization, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.” In Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India, it has been held that the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. The courts have duty to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that abridge that freedom. Freedom of press has three important ingredients. They are:
1. freedom of access to all sources of information,
2. Freedom of publication, and
3. Freedom of circulation.
However, there are certain restrictions to it as well, which are mentioned under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution such as sovereignty and security of a state, public order, etc. However, of late this freedom has been curtailed to a great extent and the press has become a mere puppet in the hands of few. India slipped two ranks from 136 to 138 in 2018 in World Press Freedom Index, which is prepared by Reporters Without Borders. India has been considered to be amongst the most dangerous places for journalists to live in.
In an operation by Cobra Post, a sting operation was done (Operation 138) on many media houses, and it was found that they could publish or twist any news or advertisements on their channels for money.
There is no denial of the fact that media played an important role in many cases, such as the Jessica Lal case, Priyadarshini Mattoo’s case etc, but now a huge part of the media and press has fell prey to the elites. There are news channels which promote the ruling party while there are other news channels which promote the opposition. They do so by twisting news, many a times spreading “fake news” and giving facts which don’t exist. Their way of publishing the news also becomes different. For example, if a Muslim man dies in mob violence and the BJP is the government, then the headline will be “A Muslim youth killed by cow vigilantes”, while if the same happened during Congress’ reign, the news is like “A man killed in a mob violence.” A Muslim becomes a man and cow vigilantes just become mob during a party’s rule.
Furthermore, interviews are fixed, and interviewers threatened. The channels which speak against the government are shut down for a day, thereby violating 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Media trials, which have been out rightly banned by courts since they can influence a court’s decision or public opinion, have become common now days. A person is declared guilty or innocent by the media in just one day.
When Mumbai was under terror threat in 26/11 the media acted irresponsibly by telecasting the long sixty hour show live, i.e., Operation Black Tornado by the security forces to combat the attack at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel & Nariman House. It included live feed of air dropping NSG Commandoes on the rooftop of Nariman House. In the case of Prof. Sabharwal, when Prof. Sabharwal was killed by ABVP activists, there were a number of news channels & newspaper correspondent present and they had evidence of the murder but the media acted irresponsibly & the police called it an ‘Open & Shut Case’. At times news channel covers news such as ‘Bollywood Gossips’ & ‘Page 3’ etc which has reduced them to a mere ‘Entertainment Channel’. Many important issues can be addressed by the media but they unnecessarily promote news which aren’t of much relevance. For example, the marriage of Abhishek and Aishwariya or the marriage of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone were highlighted and promoted so much that important news were in a way left out.
Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, "The role of journalism should be service. The Press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy."
It has been six decades since India became Republic and commencement of constitution. There has been a lot of ups & down in our democracy & the press also has come across age. As being a subject of the largest democracy of the world we should remember the words of our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, “Freedom of Press is an Article of Faith with us, sanctified by our Constitution, validated by four decades of freedom and indispensable to our future as a Nation.”
Thus, we can conclude that the time has come for the press of largest democracy of the world to work with hand-in-hand with judiciary and the press. The day is not far away when there will be no eclipse of injustice & the sun of justice will shine brightly forever.
 AIR 1950 SC 124
 (1985) 1 SCC 641.