The term freedom of expression itself has existed since ancient times dating back to the Greek Athenian era more than 2400 years ago. The debate around it still goes on
In our Indian Constitution, Article 191/A is the clause where the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Expression is there. After so many years of Independence, we are trying to revisit the issue of our concept of Freedom of Expression especially so far as the Indian media is concerned. The question is about the role of Indian media and free speech. Is there any major contradiction? Especially in the digital age. When India is progressing towards a bright future. When this Indian subcontinent Sri Lanka, Nepal and several other countries are facing a lot of instability. In this situation, India has established itself as a stable, important, strong political force. The major point being that with more than a billion people, India has 50 per cent of its population under the age of 25, making us one of the youngest nations in the world.
Especially in this digital age, the question of free media is a very important subject of discussion. We are discussing this subject when the Supreme Court is also in the process of review of the protection for people charged with sedition.
A major section of the Indian population is debating the issue. But my opinion is that no freedom is absolute. Absolute freedom is dry water. It is true that everywhere in this world there is a possibility of misuse of the power of the State to stop the criticism. There can be a possibility of using sedition charges against your critic. But in our Indian Constitution, there is a right to equality. There is a clause in the Indian Constitution about absolute freedom like at your home you can play the music system at a maximum volume. But if your neighbour is sick and the sound and the noise pollution can disturb his life, then there should be a check and balance of your freedom of creating noise in this society. There should be equilibrium in society. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said whenever there is a misuse of the sedition law there are constitutional codes and remedies. So constitutional codes and remedies are also provided by our Indian constitutional makers. That’s why the balance of power is important in the Indian political system. There is the executive, which the Government can execute, and there is legislation where the act can be legislated. And there is a judiciary. Judiciary can evaluate the executive decision and the legislative business. The Fourth state is media, where media can criticise the government. And that check and balance is the essence of democracy.
There is a clause in the Indian Constitution about absolute freedom; like at your home you can play the music system at a maximum volume. But if your neighbour is sick and the sound and the noise pollution can disturb his life, then there should be a check and balance of your freedom of creating noise in this society. There should be equilibrium in society
We have seen this in the US, during the Trump era, with a lot of criticism against Trumpism and popularly known as post-truth. But is India in the same position? WhetherJournalists are getting that Liberty of free speech or not that is the main question. There is also a general trend of decivilising society, which is a threat. Looking at the past from the perspective of a historian, the future of civilisation seems bleak. As a concept, civilisation is related to a parallel concept of nationalism and secularism. Political philosopher Ram Jahan has written a book on the decline of civilisation. In this book, he has said that Decivilisation is a highly complex and largely highly undiscussed phenomenon easily confused with barbarism. But unlike barbarism which is violent and destructive, and usually involves the use of physical force, the decivilising process can take different forms. Making it difficult to give it an identity.
Contrary to common perception, de-civilization is not the absence of civilisation, but rather the state of meaningless and thoughtless Civilization. If we blame only the state, if we blame only the political party system, the remedy cannot be possible. There is a major problem in our society. People are voting in a democracy and we know how India votes with a huge population. India is voting but society is a very important factor in our country. The social ethos is controlling our social institutions. I think freedom is essential. Government should have causes for the use of sedition charges. There should not be any misuse, but absolute freedom, especially in social media can be a disaster. Because in social media fake news and the misuse of information are also major social diseases.
India is moving fast and it has become a global media hub in this world. Each and every State has its own language; newspapers, channels, digital platforms, and social media platforms are growing every day. The question has come, whether censorship is important or not. We can forget the Emergency days. Indira Gandhi brought an Emergency and that was the only time that India used this draconian law in this country under the Congress regime. Several journalists were arrested and censorship was active. Not only during the Emergency, but even afterwards we have seen the Bihar Press Law Bill and what happened to the Bhagalpur jail line prisoners. Those who wrote the stories what happened to them? Even Rajiv Gandhi brought a bill and then withdrew it. I was a witness to Rajiv Gandhi Press Bill. We protested against that bill. But after 40 years of journalism experience, I think there should be a model and self-regulation in Indian media and we should try to understand the impact of fake news. We should not use it as a political tool of any political party. Citizen journalism should also be very careful and trained. Without training, a majority of people use social media irresponsibly. PEW reported that in 2019 79 per cent of the US population had a social media profile, while 11 per cent didn’t use the internet at all. In the UK where 19 per cent of the population has internet access, the Office for National statistics suggests just 65% used social media. There is a myth about social media. We think it’s a waste of time for people, but people are habituated. So, if we want to get proper information then we have to be trained to use social media also. But that doesn’t mean that we have to wait for censorship. There should be self-regulation
also in the media.