Freedom of Press in India
Despite being the largest Democracy in the World, the Indian Press has never been accorded a free status. A survey of civil and political liberties carried out by Freedom House listed the Indian press as being “partly free”. What is of concern here is that it figured even below countries like Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Comoros, Ecuador, and El Salvador.
Ever since, the time of Hickey, the administration has recognized the potential of the Indian Press to be severely anti-establishment. To check the growth of the Indian press without seeming overly restrictive, the British Government enacted several legislations that were successful in restricting the Indian Press. This restriction has carried on to the present times.
A major reason to doubt India’s freedom of the press sterns from the times of the Emergency when constitutional safeguards meant to protect freedom of speech and expression were set aside. Even today the Official Secrets Act allows the Government to ban the publication of articles dealing with sensitive security issues. However, journalists feel that in practice this is occasionally used to limit criticism of government actions, particularly in Punjab and Kashmir. The Government controls even the issue of subsidized newsprint to newspapers.
The mass media in India works in the absence of an absorptive infrastructure and hence widespread illiteracy and a limited audience weaken the media’s efficiency. It has been alleged that the most important limitation to the media’s efficiency in India is its inclination towards being a “uni-directional transitory mechanism”, i.e., a center to periphery type of direction that is unable to represent particularistic interests.
The situation is however not so dismal. By looking at the role played by the press especially the electronic media, in recent years, in reporting extreme situations like that of the Gujarat earthquake or other such situations, one notices the crucial role the press plays in bringing to the forefront the concerns of the affected populations.
Despite the fact that press freedom in India is not totally without hindrances in some form or the other, an active judiciary works consistently to safeguard the provisions of the Constitution and this was seen during the Emergency of 1975-77. The judiciary is independent of the government in ordinary cases, although the system suffers from overload and is often inaccessible to the poor.
India has a large and conscious private press and although it has not always been successful in providing “early warnings” to the authorities, it has definitely succeeded in extracting political accountability from the government, an achievement that rightly needs to be acknowledged.