The freedom of the press, which is commonly regarded as the fourth pillar of contemporary democracy, is an essential and fundamental component of India’s democratic nation. A modern, well-informed citizenry’s active participation provides much-needed vigilance over the administration’s actions, which is a necessary component of a democratic society. The right to speak, communicate and express oneself through various electronic and print media, as well as the omnipresent and omniscient Internet sources, are all examples of media freedom rights. Limited government intervention is a necessary condition for press freedom, its protection through constitutional or other means is just as important to the nation as democracy itself.
WHAT CONSTITUTES FREEDOM OF THE PRESS?
- A Press that is competent, independent, and accountable is the foundation of every democracy. “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is a well-known definition of democracy. It exhibits, that every citizen must be authorized to be a participant in the democratic process. In addition, the media are the primary means which facilitate people in exercising their right to choose prudently. Media Freedom must be guaranteed for this to happen. The Freedom of the Press can include the right to publish and print without interference from the state or other public authorities.
- The “United Nations,” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers“.
- The widespread expression has been seen in modern times through a variety of mediums, including the printed and electronic press. Freedom of the Press expresses the pivotal democratic value, as the press is responsible for the propagation of information to citizens, ensuring democratic accountability. To concoct a firm feasible society the press, a decisive and influential channel of mass communication should be free to play. The denial of press freedom to citizens would undoubtedly sabotage the power to spread awareness about current and vital issues and this would be a counter to democracy. So, “Media has been regarded as the fourth pillar of Democracy.”
WHERE IS THE RIGHT OF PRESS FREEDOM RECOGNISED IN THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION?
The freedom of the press was regarded by the drafters of the Indian Constitution as an integral component of the freedom of speech and expression recognized by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. By allowing people to express their support or opposition to the government’s actions, democracy, and independent journalism have been strengthened. After the Romesh Thappar v the State of Madras where
‘The Supreme Court declared press freedom to be intrinsic, and a fundamental element of the right to freedom of expression and speech’ cases highlighted the significance of the media as the fundamental foundation of all democratic organizations, and Article 19 was brought to light.
In the case “Indian Express Newspapers v Union of India,”  it was decided, “that in today’s free world, press freedom is at the centre of social and political discourse and that the media is crucial to the functioning of democracy. The courts have a responsibility to preserve press freedom and to strike down any laws or government policies that restrict it”. This case highlighted the importance of the press in the formation of the intellect of our nation’s public, and in preserving our nation’s democracy. The court too took the responsibility for preserving press freedom against any law that might lead to its restriction.
Access to all information sources is included in the freedom of the press. The freedom to publish, circulate, and obtain information from all sources is recognized under the right to freedom of expression. Press freedom is not unrestricted, though. Article 19(1) (2), which establishes justifiable restrictions on the right to free speech, must be upheld in cases affecting: Public order, decency, morality, friendly relation with other nations, etc., are matters to be given consideration.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS?
- WATCHDOG ACT BY MEDIA: It has been often witnessed that whenever any wing of government i.e., Judiciary, Executive, or Legislature tries to outreach their domains, they have been always checked by the media. It has duly been proved that media is essential to the safeguarding transparency of democratic processes in contemporary politics and society at large. Therefore, we can say that Media acts as Watchdog.
- PROMOTES EXCHANGE OF BELIEFS AND THOUGHTS: Media expose people to all sorts of information and this motivates them to think beyond the traditional way and build up new ideas. Also, media provides them with a medium to exchange their ideas that deserve to be heard and get to know about others’ beliefs too.
- BECOME VOICE OF PEOPLE: Media has become a platform that raises the issues that are suppressed and not talked about. The media acts as the voice of the people and brings such issues to light.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS RELATED TO COURT PROCEEDINGS?
During hearings in courts, numerous spate of raging and heated arguments takes place between lawyers, and multiple statements are made by Judges about whether or not part of the official judicial record. Such hearings are disclosed by the media to the general public. We observe that the media reports the court proceedings daily and news such as political, social, and legal are occupying significant space in Newspapers, online news platforms, etc.
However, as a result, some people became concerned, and the extent of press freedom was questioned. The same question arose in the Chief Election Commissioner of India case and through that case we got our answer to this question. The issue has arisen in this instance as a result of the Division Bench of the High Court’s oral complaint against the Election Commission on April 26, 2021. The apex Court of India observed in the case of The Chief Election Commissioner of India v M.R Vijayabhaskar & Others
“That oral statements are not recorded in the official judicial record, so there no question to expunge them can arise. It is trite to say that a formal opinion of a judicial institution is reflected through its judgments and orders, and not its oral observations during the hearing. Therefore, in light of the preceding discussion, the EC’s request to prevent the media from covering court proceedings lacks substance and validity. The Hon’ble Apex Court also observed that this Court is a firm supporter of the media’s right to report on court proceedings”.
This Apex Court Judgement, played a vital part to uphold the Media’s freedom to report the court proceeding. Also, it has reiterated the sine qua non of press freedom for a healthy democracy. This judgment made explicit the right of the media to disclose everything that took place during court proceedings whether the statement is mentioned in the judicial order or not.
With the development of science, new innovations and technologies are coming into existence. One of them is live streaming, and in the recent case of Swapnil Tripathi v Supreme Court of India a revolutionary judgment was passed. It was held that the proceedings of cases having constitutional and national importance before the Supreme Court should be broadcast to the public and the ability to view live broadcasts of the Supreme Court proceedings flowed from the right of access to justice in the Constitution. The Court also added that this right should not be absolute. It provided a set of Model Guidelines that should govern the courts’ discretion on when such broadcast should be used.
Live streaming is a significant tool for increasing accountability among those who participate in the judicial process and judicial institutions. Additionally, this decision has significant implications for the principles of open justice, public access to information, and judicial transparency. Even though the judgment only directs that certain Supreme Court proceedings be streamed live, for the time being, it has made it possible for all Supreme Court, High Court, and lower court proceedings to be streamed live.
The media is now recognized as the fourth pillar of democracy. However, if we allow it to be restricted, we would be constraining ourselves. It is well-established fact that despite having certain reasonable restrictions Press freedom is pivotal for India’s Democracy. Concerning freedom of the press and court proceedings, important case laws had been brought to light and through this case law, the extent of freedom of the press became explicit. It discloses that the right to freedom of speech includes the Real-time reportage of court proceedings, plus the oral exchanges in courtrooms between judges and lawyers.
Author(s) Name: Jannat Chuchra (University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun)
 ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’ (Clingendael, 01 March 2018) <https://www.clingendael.org/publication/government-people-people-people> accessed 20 November 2022
 ‘Article 10: Freedom of expression’ (Equality and Human Rights Commission) <https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights-act/article-10-freedom-expression#:~:text=Article%2010%20of%20the%20Human%20Rights%20Act%3A%20Freedom%20of%20expression&text=Everyone%20has%20the%20right%20to,authority%20and%20regardless%20of%20frontiers> accessed 20 November 2022
 Mr.Shivansh Agrawal, ‘Media: Fourth Pillar Of Democracy’ (Legal Service India) <https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3487-media-fourth-pillar-of-democracy.html> accessed 29 November 2022
 Constitution of India 1950, art 19(1)(a)
 Romesh Thaper v State of Madras (1950) AIR 124
 Constitution of India 1950, art 19(1)
 Indian Express Newspaper v Union of India (1986) AIR 515
 Constitution of India 1950, art 19(1)(2)
 The Chief Election Commissioner of India v M.R Vijayabhaskar & Ors. (2021) AIR SC 244
 Swapnil Tripathi v Supreme Court of India (2018) 10 SCC 628