Exploring Freedom Of Speech And Expression

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Index

  1. Introduction 
  2. Freedom Of Speech Defined
  3. Freedom Of Speech And Expression In India
  4. The Importance Of Freedom Of Speech And Press In A Democracy
  5. Definition of Freedom Of The Press
  6. The Elements And Challenges Of Press Freedom In India
  7. Reasons For The Degradation Of Press Freedom
  8. Judicial Recognition Of Commercial Speech And Advertising Rights In India
  9. Evolution And Scope Of Freedom Of Speech And Expression In India
  10. Judicial Recognition In Broadcasting
  11. Right To Information
  12. Voters’ Right To Know
  13. Right To Criticise
  14. Right To Form Opinions
  15. Expansion Of Freedom Of Expression
  16. The Right Not To Speak
  17. Grounds For Restricting Freedom Of Speech And Expression
  18. Restrictions Based On Decency, Morality, And Contempt Of Court
  19. Conclusion 

Introduction 

Freedom of speech is one of our fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Part III. It is a basic right that we inherently possess from birth, and no individual or entity, including the state, can deprive us of this right. Specifically, freedom of speech falls under the broader category of the right to freedom (Articles 19-22) in the Constitution.

Article 19 is crucial as it embodies ‘basic freedoms.’ Article 19(1) of the Constitution grants these rights, but the State can impose restrictions on their exercise. The main purpose of Article 19 is to protect these rights from State interference, except when the State lawfully regulates private rights for public interest.

Freedom Of Speech Defined 

The right to freely express one’s ideas, thoughts, and opinions through writing, printing, pictures, gestures, spoken words, or any other mode is central to the freedom of speech and expression. This right includes expressing ideas through visible means like gestures, signs, and other communicative mediums. It also encompasses the right to share one’s views through print media or any other communication channel.

This means that freedom of the press is part of this category. The essential goal is the free dissemination of ideas, which can be achieved through the press or other platforms. Both freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of expression come with their own qualifications.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that the freedom to seek, receive, and share information and ideas of all kinds across borders, whether orally, in writing, in print, through art, or any other media, is included in the right to freedom of speech and expression.

 

Freedom Of Speech And Expression In India

In India, the freedom of speech and expression is granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, and it is available exclusively to Indian citizens.

This constitutional right is considered one of the fundamental elements of a healthy democracy, as it enables citizens to actively participate in the social and political processes of the country.

Comparing the past, when women were not allowed to vote, to the present day, where women have the right to vote, highlights the transformative power of free speech and expression. This change occurred because the right to free speech and expression enables the dismantling of barriers and oppression.

Free speech and expression support other rights that contribute to the development and progress of Indian society, making it a fundamental human right. Throughout history, free speech has played a crucial role in facilitating significant changes, such as the French Revolution.

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The right to free speech and expression encompasses not only the ability to voice one’s thoughts but also the importance of listening to others. When someone expresses their opinion, it inherently carries value, and ignoring that opinion constitutes an injustice to basic human rights.

The Importance Of Freedom Of Speech And Press In A Democracy

For a democratic society to thrive, it is essential that individuals have the freedom to express their feelings and share their views with the public. This freedom encompasses the dissemination of one’s views through various communication channels, such as print media, radio, and television, subject to reasonable restrictions outlined in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

While the Constitution does not explicitly mention freedom of the press in Article 19, the Supreme Court has interpreted it as an integral part of the right to freedom of speech and expression through its rulings.

Definition of Freedom Of The Press

Freedom of the press refers to the right of media organisations to disseminate information and opinions without censorship or restraint by the government, ensuring that the press can operate independently and serve as a watchdog of democracy.

 

The Elements And Challenges Of Press Freedom In India

  1. Access to Information: The ability to obtain information from various sources.
  2. Publication Freedom: The right to publish information without censorship.
  3. Circulation Freedom: The ability to distribute published material freely.

 

Reasons For The Degradation Of Press Freedom

The press in India has seen a decline in its significance. Politicians often exploit the media to incite conflicts and win elections. Additionally, the freedom of the press has frequently been curtailed by legislative actions. A notable case illustrating this is Sakal Papers v. Union of India, where the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order of 1960 restricted the number of pages and their size that a newspaper could publish. The court ruled that this order violated press freedom and was not a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).

 

Judicial Recognition Of Commercial Speech And Advertising Rights In India

The current judicial stance in India recognizes commercial speech as a component of the freedom of speech and expression. This right, however, is subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

The freedom of speech and expression granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution extends to every citizen. Judicial interpretations have expanded this right to encompass several aspects, including:

  1. The right to acquire and disseminate information.
  2. The right to communicate through any media, such as advertisements, movies, speeches, etc.
  3. The right to engage in free debate and open discussion.
  4. Freedom of the press.
  5. The freedom to be informed.
  6. The right to remain silent.

The inclusion of advertising within the ambit of freedom of speech was affirmed in the case of Tata Press Limited v. Mahanagar Telephone Nagar Limited. The Supreme Court held that commercial speech, including advertisements, is protected under the right to freedom of speech. However, this right can be restricted only within the confines of Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Also Read  What Are The Rights Of Women In India

 

Evolution And Scope Of Freedom Of Speech And Expression In India

The concept of freedom of speech and expression has broadened to encompass all available means of communication and expression due to technological advancements. This includes broadcast media, electronic media, and various other types of media.

 

Judicial Recognition In Broadcasting

In the case of Odyssey Communications (P) Ltd. v. Lokvidayan Sanghatana, the Supreme Court held that the right of citizens to display films on state channels such as Doordarshan falls under the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Right To Information

The right to know or obtain information is a crucial aspect of freedom of speech and expression. Various Supreme Court judgments have affirmed that the freedom to receive information is included under this right. The Right to Information Act, 2005, explicitly grants citizens the right to request information from government officials.

 

Voters’ Right To Know

In Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, the Supreme Court ruled that the amended Electoral Reform Law passed by Parliament was unconstitutional as it violated citizens’ right to know under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

Right To Criticise

In a democratic system, the people are supreme, and the state authority serves them. The Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh v. The State of Bihar held that mere criticism of the government does not constitute sedition unless it incites violence or public disorder. A similar principle was applied in the case of Manipur journalist Kishorechand Wangkhem, who was charged with sedition for criticising the chief minister but was released as the court upheld his right to criticise under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

 

Right To Form Opinions

In S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, it was held that everyone has the constitutional right to form and express their opinion on any matter of general concern.

Expansion Of Freedom Of Expression

The advancement in technology and the revolution in communication and electronic media have significantly reduced transnational barriers. Information can now be transmitted across the globe within seconds. In the landmark case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India deliberated on whether Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, was limited to Indian territory. The Court ultimately held that this freedom is not confined by national boundaries.

The Right Not To Speak

The right to freedom of speech and expression also encompasses the right not to speak. This right was prominently recognized in the Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala case, also known as the National Anthem case. In this case, three students were expelled by their school for refusing to sing the National Anthem, although they stood respectfully while it played.

Initially, the Kerala High Court upheld the students’ expulsion, asserting it was their fundamental duty to sing the anthem. However, upon further appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the students had not violated the Prevention of Insult to National Honor Act, 1971. Furthermore, there was no law that could curtail their fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded that expelling the students violated their right to freedom not to speak, as protected by Article 19(1)(a).

Also Read  Understanding The Process Of Obtaining Information Through The Right To Information Act

Grounds For Restricting Freedom Of Speech And Expression

Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution places reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of the state. The term ‘security of the state’ goes beyond ‘public order’ and includes severe disruptions such as waging war against the state, rebellion, or insurrection. It encompasses dangers not only to the entire country’s security but also to specific parts or states within it.

This restriction was introduced through the Constitutional First Amendment of 1951. Its purpose is to prevent unbridled hostile propaganda against foreign-friendly nations, which could harm the maintenance of good relations between India and those states. If freedom of speech and expression undermines India’s friendly relations with foreign states, the government is empowered to impose reasonable restrictions.

Also added through the Constitutional First Amendment of 1951, this ground for restriction addresses situations concerning public safety, peace, and community harmony. It emerged in response to cases like Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, where the Supreme Court dealt with issues necessitating this addition to ensure public order and tranquillity.

 

Restrictions Based On Decency, Morality, And Contempt Of Court

Our Constitution emphasises the importance of using decent and morally acceptable language. This notion is reflected in Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which place restrictions on freedom of speech and expression concerning decency and morality. The interpretation of decency and morality varies across societies and evolves over time based on prevailing societal norms, encompassing a broad spectrum beyond just sexual morality.

In a democratic setup, the judiciary’s role in maintaining peace and order is crucial. Respect for the institution and its orders is essential for the smooth functioning of administrative law and the delivery of justice. Contempt of court can be categorised into civil and criminal contempt, as defined in Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. Initially, ‘truth’ was not a defence in contempt cases, but an amendment in 2006 introduced ‘truth’ as a valid defence, as seen in cases like Indirect Tax Practitioner Assn. v. R.K. Jain. Essential elements for establishing contempt include the existence of a valid court order, the respondent’s awareness of the order, the ability to comply, and intentional disobedience.

Conclusion 

Civil society ensures a crucial guarantee for citizens: the freedom of expression in speech. This right has expanded to encompass freedom of the press, the right to information including commercial details, the right not to speak, and the right to criticise. In today’s world, freedom of speech extends beyond verbal expression to various forms of communication. However, these rights are subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

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