Media: Strength and Weakness
As Jim Morrison said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind” is one hundred percent true. Every form of media holds the power to influence a person’s perspective, day, or belief. Any form of media whether it is print media, broadcast media, outdoor or out-of-home media, and the internet has access to a large section of the society. And not to forget it is the literal meaning of the word, “media”,” the main means of mass communication regarded collectively.
The provisions for the system of mass media are different for different countries. It usually depends on the religion, culture, economy, and polity of the country. For example, countries like the former USSR and China follow communism and totalitarianism. In these countries, there were a huge number of restrictions on the media regarding what they can say about the government.
More or less everything said against the government was censored owing to their fear of revolution. On the contrary in countries like the USA, being Bourgeois Democracy allows almost everything to the media.
When we consider India and its parliamentary democracy, we see almost everything is allowed to the media with some restrictions. The history of laws related to the media goes deep to the British colonial period. There were many laws that came into force from the year 1979 to 1908. Still, January 26, 1950, the date of enforcement of the constitution of India, is considered to be a significant day for the media. The British rule had made us realize the importance of freedom of speech and expression.
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Freedom of Speech and Expression
Part 3 of the constitution deals with fundamental rights (see here). These rights are considered to be infringed if they are infringed by the state. Mentioned in this part, Article 19 (1)(a) incorporates the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. This right means to acquire information and to disseminate it.
It gives every person the autonomy to convey its ideas, beliefs, and opinions via any form of media whether print, electronic or audio-visual, such as movies, advertisements, articles, speech, etc. One can spread this information without any interference of any regulatory authority in the country or abroad, as per the reach.
Does this mean that we have no limitations over our speech or expression? No, we do not have any limitations but we do have exceptions to the above article which are written in Article 19(2). This article lays down the exception scenarios in which the government can legally restrict someone from spreading some sort of information. These exceptions are in interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India as follow:
- Security of state
- Friendly relations with foreign states
- Decency and morality
- Contempt of court
- Incitement to an offense
The freedom of speech and expression has constantly expanded its ambit over media out of many other professions.
In Sakal Papers v. Union of India, The Supreme Court (see here) held the freedom of the press as “species of which freedom of expression is a genus”.
In another case of Printers (Mysore) Ltd. v. Assistant Commercial Tax Officer, Supreme Court reiterated that (see here) freedom of the press may not be explicitly given in the constitution but is implied in the freedom of speech and expression. It enjoys a state which is often used as a measurement of the democratic credentials of the state.
Also Read: Right to the Internet
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Laws Related to Media
- The Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951- this act restricts the publication of matters related to incitement of a crime.
- The Newspaper (Prices and Pages) Act, 1956- the central government will set the number of pages of a newspaper and accordingly a price for fair space for advertisements.
- Defense of India Act, 1962- this act was brought at the time of Emergency and in lieu of India’s war against China. This act gave the central government authority to issue rules regarding publication or printing matters related to civil Defence/Military operations, prevention of prejudicial reports, and related matters in newspapers.
- Press Council Act, 1978- the Press Council was reconstituted, after 1976, in order to improve the standard of newspapers and news agencies in India.
The Government of India had complete monopoly on the broadcast media and the private organizations were only entertained for the commercial advertisements and sponsorship programs.
In the Secretary, Ministry Of I&B v. Cricket Association of Bengal & Anr. The Supreme Court of India held that the (see here) government had no monopoly over such electronic media as there is no mention of any such of their power in the constitution of India. Also, every citizen has a right to telecast and broadcast to the viewers/listeners any important event through electronic media, television, or radio.
There were some Broadcasting Codes adopted by Asian Broadcasting Conference 1962. Following cardinal principles have been ideally practiced by all organizations:
- Objective presentation of news and comment.
- Promote the development of education and culture.
- Maintain and raise high standards of decency and decorum.
- Programs for the young which will inculcate principles of good citizenship.
- Promote communal harmony, religious tolerance, and international understanding.
- Treat controversial public issues in an impartial and dispassionate manner.
- Respect human rights and dignity
- The Cinematograph Act, 1952- under this act a Board of Film Censors (Central Board of Film Certification) with advisory panels at regional centers is given the authority to examine every film and sanction it. It is also empowered to refuse to sanction a film for public exhibition.
- Bombay Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1953- this act provides state licenses of cinema theatres and other places where motion pictures are exhibited.
- The Bombay Entertainments Duty Act, 1923- it provides tax on the public exhibition of motion pictures and other forms of entertainment.
There are many products whose advertising is banned by the government in order to maintain the decency of society and not promote unhealthy habits. This means that the government can intervene in matters of what can be advertised and what cannot be advertised.
Under the Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954 the government can control the advertisement of drugs in particular cases and prohibit the advertisement of “magic quality” remedies to provide for matters connected therewith.
In Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India, the Supreme court heard arguments challenging the above-mentioned act. The apex court held that advertisements are a form of speech and expression but every advertisement is not a matter dealing with the expression of ideas and hence commercial advertisements cannot fall within the concept of Article 19(1)(a).
However, in another case Tata Press Ltd. v. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (see here) differed from the judgment passed in the Dawakhana case. Here the Court made it clear that the commercial advertisement was definitely a part of Article 19(1)(a) but the government can regulate advertisements that are deceptive, unfair, misleading, and untruthful.
Problems Associated with Media
Advancement in technology has made it necessary to keep legal checks on the action of the media. Now media is not restricted to TVs or Radio now almost every person uses social media and in some or the other way puts their ideas and beliefs out in public. We have Information Technology Act, 2000 to restrict activities on social media in accordance with Article 19(2).
The media plays a vital role in bringing the truth and wrong in front of the public. Somehow the media decides what opinions one has about a situation. Recent cases related to news media, such as the proliferation and curbing of social media, paid news phenomenon, fake sting operations, trial by media, breach of privacy, etc., bring a heavy concern. The reach of the media has now resulted in unhealthy trends of competition.
Another major concern of today is how the media prioritizes the different types of news. There are few mediums left through which you can actually access authentic news. Many news channels and different mediums are concerned about their TRPs rather than efficient news. Preconceptions about a situation lead the public to either protest or show their support in an exaggerated pattern.
There are many instances in which we are not even aware of the ground-level reality of news and even if we are discussing the topic, we have no crux of the matter. In making the government or public realize the importance of media it itself has forgotten its significance. No doubt the media has a great impact on the public and that is the reason why they should focus on authenticity and keep their priorities right on track.
We have played the blame game for a very long time now and it is time we focus on what we can do to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. For a start, keep a check on your opinions. Think before forming an opinion and ask a few questions before forming one, like, from where did I get this information? Is my source reliable? Have I covered all aspects of the topic? Do I follow someone blindly? Are these really my opinions?
It is easy once you start doing it the right way. Your opinions matter and every one of you reading this matter but make sure you make yourself matter. It is easy to spread hatred and it is easier to believe in something you read, saw or heard to be true but it takes intelligence to contemplate three of them.
The responsibility of providing authentic, reliable, and efficient news lies with the media, and making it worth it is ours. As Malcolm X said, “the media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make innocent guilty and to make guilty innocent, and that is the power because they control the minds of masses.” Let’s make sure that no longer an innocent will be held guilty.
–Written by Rudrakshi Sharma
(Writer, The Legal State)
– Edited by Palak Katta
(Editor, The Legal State)
 Sakal Papers v. union of India 1962 AIR 305, 1962 SCR (3) 842
 Printers (Mysore) Ltd. v. Assistant Commercial Tax Officer 1994 SCR (1) 682, 1994 SCC (2) 434
 Secretary, Ministry Of I&B v. Cricket Association Of Bengal & Anr 1995 AIR 1236, 1995 SCC (2) 161
 Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954
 Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India 1960 AIR 554, 1960 SCR (2) 671
 Tata Press Ltd. v. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. 1995 AIR 2438, 1995 SCC (5) 139
 Information Technology Act, 2000
1 thought on “Media: Strength and Weakness”
Very insightful and professionally written! Rudrakshi you are a full fledged columnist now!