Role of Media in Democracy and Good Governance

By Ankitha Praveen, School of Legal Studies, CUSAT

Editor’s Note: Freedom of speech and expression subject to reasonable restrictions is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. India celebrates its freedom of press which has been played an important role in the evolution of the Indian society over the decades. The freedom of speech is bolstered by the Right to Information. The role of the media is not only to disseminate information but also to help the society form opinions and make sound decisions. In this manner, the media plays an important role in governance of the nation. The author has explained the meaning and scope of the terms ‘freedom of speech and expression’ and ‘right to information’ with emphasis on the former being an important aspect of the Indian constitution. The author has then explained the role of the media vis a vis governance of a country. Being a democratic country, where the decision of the masses is supreme, mass media is in instrumental in ensuring that the people make informed decisions. Further, it is through the media that the masses are able to voice their opinions. Appreciation of the role of the media in good governance is essential to societal development.

ABSTRACT

Power of speech is a bliss to man. It is a pleasure to listen to people and to express the feelings of one and another on good things. Here, oratory is an art. Freedom of Expression has always been emphasized as a special right for the democratic, economic functioning of a society. This is being included in Art.19 (1) (a) of our Indian Constitution i.e. the freedom of the press. Media plays a vital role in part of each and every human shall be discussing about the issues relating to the responsibilities of the media in good governance, thus media has become more powerful and prominent. In India, media have played a significant role by providing information to the citizens about social and economic evils. Of course, a citizen cannot personally gather and collect information to form his/her opinions even though having reasonable restrictions as provided in Art.19 (2) of the constitution. Freedom of speech can be restricted only in the interests of the security of state, friendly relations with the foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. It cannot be curtailed, like the freedom to carry on business. Yes, the press and media in India are absolutely free by praising the ruling party and getting the tender ads. Of our government or twisting the censorious new items which impacts a celebrity or a party and get a massive pay off from the side that benefits from the twisted version. Further deliberates about the constitutional aspects about the freedom of press and media, about the censorship pertaining to press that has been highly aroused among the people. The Media serves as a medium of exercise of freedom of speech. So great as its influence that it’s called as ‘fourth estate’. Since the word ‘media’ is encompassing today’s world, the paper shall be discussing about the issues relating to the responsibilities of the medias in our democratic system of governance.

INTRODUCTION

Democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people and which gives equal chance to all the citizens to participate and play a significant role in the political process, ensures and guarantees certain rights and freedoms to the people constituting the policy. It is a form of government which is subject to popular sovereignty. Of the fundamental freedoms that the citizens enjoy, freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important ones as it gives substance and meaning to ‘participation’ of the people.

A democratic system to run in its full potential need wide participation on the part of general masses which is impossible without the people being informed about the various issues. Thus reliable information sources form an important constituent of a democratic society. This is where the role and importance of media arises.

The media has undoubtedly evolved and become more active over the years. Mass media has a great influence on human life in the present century. They have provided information and entertainment to people across countries. Print media has been the leader of mass media over a considerable period of time. But now it has got competition from Television, which is reshaping many of the social responses. Radio apart from providing news and views has also developed a flair for entertainment, thereby getting a lot of acceptance. There is also the new media with the internet being its flag bearer. The Internet has indeed made it possible to disseminate information and ideas in real time across the globe.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” – John Milton.

The freedom of speech is considered as one of the first condition of liberty. It occupies an important and preferred position in the hierarchy of the liberty, It is also said that the freedom of speech is the mother all liberties.  Freedom of speech means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. In the modern era, right to freedom of speech is one of the essence of free society and it must be protected at all time. Liberty to express opinions and ideas without any hindrance, and especially without any fear of punishment plays an important role in that particular society and ultimately for the state.

‘Freedom’ means the absence of control, interference or restriction. Hence the expression ‘freedom of the press’ means the right to print and publish without any interference from the state or any public authority. Since, in India, freedom of expression is guaranteed by Art.19(1)(a) of the constitution, and it has been held by the Supreme Court[1] that freedom of the press is included in that wider guarantee, it is unnecessary to plead for the freedom of the press in this country.  Freedom of speech is not only guaranteed by the constitution of statutes of various states but also by various international conventions such as by Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights etc. These declarations discuss freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of speech enjoys special position as far as India is concerned. The importance of freedom of expression and speech can be easily understood by the fact that preamble of the constitution itself ensures to all citizens inter alia, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship. The constitutional significance of the freedom of speech consists in the preamble of the constitution and is transformed as a fundamental and human right in Article 19(1) (a) as “freedom of speech and expression. With the explanation of the scope of “freedom of speech and expression”, the Supreme Court has said that the words must be broadly constructed to include the freedom to circulate one’s views by words of mouth or in writing or through audiovisual instrumentalities. Freedom of Speech and Expression means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It thus includes the expression of one’s own idea through any communicable medium or visible representation, such as gesture, signs, and the like.

Moreover, it is important to note that liberty of one must not offend the liberty of others.  Patanjali Shastri J., in A.K. Gopalan case, observed, ‘man as a rational being desires to do many things, but in a civil society his desires will have to be controlled with the exercise of similar desires by other individuals’. It, therefore, includes the right to propagate one’s views through the print media or through any other communication channel e.g.; the radio and the television. Every citizen of this country therefore has the right to air his or their views through the printing and or the electronic media subject of course to permissible restrictions imposed under Article 19(2) of the constitution. In sum, the fundamental principle involved here is the people’s right to know. Freedom of speech and Expression should, therefore, receive generous support from all those who believe in the participation of people in the administration.

CONSTITUTIONAL ASPECT

Art.19 (1) (a) secures to every citizen the freedom of speech and expression. This has to be read with clause (2) which provides that the said right shall not prevent the operation of law relating to the matters specified therein.  The freedom of the press is not confined to newspapers, and periodicals, but also includes pamphlets, leaflets, circulars, and every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion[2]. There is no need to emphasis that a free press, which is neither directed by the executive nor subjected to censorship, is a vital element in a free state; but in particular, a free, regularly published, political press is essential in the modern democracy.

Therefore the press keeps and enlightens the citizens to make political decisions, know the opinion of others to weigh them up against each other. The press, thus provides the information, adopts its own point of view, and thus works as a direction giving force to the public debate. It stands as a permanent means of communication and control between the people and their elected representatives in Parliament and Government.  Banning of publication in any newspaper of any matter relating to any particular subject or class of subjects would be obnoxious to the right of free speech. It is certainly a serious encroachment on the valuable and cherished right to freedom of speech[3].

The Freedom of speech and Expression includes the freedom of propagation of ideas and is ensured by the freedom of circulation. ‘The right to freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of placing restrictions on the business activities of a citizen. Freedom of speech can be restricted only in the interests of the security of state, friendly relations with the foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. It cannot, like the freedom to carry on business, be curtailed in the interests of the general public’[4].

‘It is the duty of the state to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the state. The state cannot plead its inability to handle the hostile audience problem. It is its obligatory duty to prevent it and protect the freedom of expression’[5].

RIGHT TO INFORMATION

Right to know, to information is other facet of freedom of speech. The right to know, to receive and to impart information has been recognized within the right to freedom of speech and expression. A citizen has a fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving information and as such to have an access to telecasting for the purpose. The Right to Information Act, 2005, especially talks about people’s right to ask information from Government official, which prohibits discloser of certain documents under section 8 of the Act. These exceptions are generally the grounds of reasonable restrictions over freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India. By saying we can conclude that ‘right to information is nothing but one small limb of right of speech and expression’.

The right to receive and right to impart has been established as a part of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by subclause (a) of clause 1 of Art.19 of the Constitution subjected to reasonable restrictions.

It has been held by the Supreme Court in Secretary, Ministry of I & B, Government of India v. Cricket Association Of Bengal[6] that, “The freedom of speech and expression includes right to acquire information and to disseminate it.  Freedom of speech and expression is necessary, for self-expression which is an important means of free conscience and self-fulfillment. It enables people to contribute to debates on social and moral issues.  It is the best way to find a truest model of anything since it is only through it that the widest possible range of ideas can circulate. It is the only vehicle of political discourse so essential to democracy. Equally important is the role it plays in facilitating artistic and scholarly endeavors of all sorts.

The right to communicate, therefore, includes right to communicate through any media that is available whether print or electronic or audio-visual such as advertisement, movie, article, speech, etc. That is why freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of the press.  The freedom of the press in turn includes right to circulate and also to determine the volume of such circulation.  This freedom includes the freedom to communicate or circulate one’s opinion without interference to as large a population in the country, as well as abroad, as is possible to reach.”[7]

ROLE OF MEDIA IN DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE

Good governance is an indeterminate term used to describe how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources. Governance is the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)”.[8] Good governance is about the processes for making and implementing decisions. Its not about making ‘correct’ decisions but about the best possible process for making those decision. The concept of “good governance” centres around the responsibility of governments and governing bodies to meet the needs of the masses as opposed to select groups in society.

Media usually refers to mass media, which is any medium that provides citizens with information regarding all the current affairs of any area at a large scale. It is unbiased reporting of facts through print, television, radio or Internet.

Traditionally and constitutionally, the media has no defined role in governance. It doesn’t have the power to change any decisions made by the various arms of a state––the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Yet, the media plays one of the most important roles in the functioning of any society. It amplifies the voice of citizens and communicates their opinions to the lawmakers.

Access to information is essential for a democratic society because it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation and information also serves a checking function. It is well known that media overlaps other functional areas of democracy and governance. For example, support for media may yield results in governance activities, particularly those related to decentralization, anti-corruption, and citizen participation in the policy process. The rule of law may be further institutionalized by support for an independent media that keeps a check on the judiciary, reports on the courts, and promotes a legal enabling environment suitable for press freedom. Free and fair elections conducted through transparent processes require a media sector which gives candidates equal access, and reports the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner.

“If it were left on me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”Thomas Jefferson

According to the first Press Commission in India freedom of the Press refers to hold opinions, to receive and to impart information through the printed word without any interference from any public authority. Thus it is the right of the citizen o publish without any prior permission from the government or any other public authority, subject only to the legal liability for what he has chosen to publish. Freedom of press has three essential features; namely freedom of publication, freedom of access to all sources of information and freedom of circulation. Press freedom, thus plays a vital role in the formulation of public opinion on issues of public importance.

If media is to have any meaningful role in democracy and governance it must be free and independent from the control of government. The ultimate goal of media is to serve the public interest. The public interest is defined as representing a plurality of voices both through a greater number of outlets and through the diversity of views and voices reflected within one outlet.

Television and radio have made a significant achievement in educating rural illiterate masses in making them aware of all the events in their language. Coverage of exploitative malpractices of village heads and moneylenders has helped in taking stringent actions against them by attracting government attention. The media also exposes loopholes in the democratic system, which ultimately helps government in filling the vacuums of loopholes and making a system more accountable, responsive and citizen-friendly. A democracy without media is like a vehicle without wheels.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called media ‘the watch dog of our democracy’. This handed the media a huge responsibility in the functioning of our society. Thus media plays the role of communicator in democracy. They make people aware and conscious of their state of affairs by providing them with in depth insight on important issues concerning people. Though freedom of press is essential and indispensable for the successful functioning of the Indian democracy, it is very often silenced by the executive, gagged by the legislature, suppressed by judiciary, repressed and muzzled by the pressure groups.

CONCLUSION

The role of media in India, the largest democracy of the world is different from merely disseminating information and entertainment. Educating the masses for their social upliftment needs to be in its ambit as well. In a country where there is large scale poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment media has a responsibility towards developmental journalism. It has a role to play behind the formation of public opinion which can force the political parties to address the core issues haunting the country’s progress. It is thus referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy. However; public opinion can be manipulated by vested interests to serve their own goals.

Good governance is an ideal system which is difficult to achieve in its totality. In other words, no country or society has ever said to achieve good governance in totality. We can only come close to this by our activities with the aim of making this ideal a reality. The journey of India from developing nation to a developed nation will depend on the role played by the media in the country. It needs to be focused on real matters, which are mostly social and economic in nature, instead of trying to divert the attention to the known issues. Achieving good governance requires the understanding and participation of every member of society. The media, their significant roles, channels and contents, are considered to be the most powerful weapon to make this achievement a reality.

Formatted on 15th March 2019.

Footnotes

[1]Express Newspapers v. Union of India, 1958 S.C. 578 (614).

[2]Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 US 444; Sakal Papers(P) Ltd v. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305.

[3]Virendra v. State of Punjab, AIR 1957 SC 896.

[4]Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 578.

[5]1995 AIR 1236 M.P.Singh, Comparative Constitutional Law, ‘Free Speech in Germany’,(Eastern Book Company ,2011),193.

[6] M.P.Singh, Comparative Constitutional Law, ‘Free Speech in Germany’,(Eastern Book Company ,2011),193.

[7]United Nations ESCAP 2009, “What is Good Governance”,  http://www.unescap.org/pdd/prs/ProjectActivities/Ongoing/gg/governance.asp

One Reply to “Role of Media in Democracy and Good Governance”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *