TOO MUCH OF INFORMATION: DETRIMENTAL TO PUBLIC WELFARE- SHRISHTI ROHRA & ANKITA MAJI

TOO MUCH OF INFORMATION: DETRIMENTAL TO PUBLIC WELFARE- SHRISHTI ROHRA & ANKITA MAJI

RT

ISSN : 2581-8465

NAME OF AUTHORS: SHRISHTI ROHRA AND ANKITA MAJIC

UNIVERSITY OF PETROLEUM AND ENERGY STUDIES, DEHRADUN

ABSTRACT

The overall purpose of this study is to highlight the role of media or press in current situation prevailing in the country.  The paper mainly focuses on the position of media with respect to the Wing Commander Abhinandan’s Case. The study goes further to show how the media reacted and how they should have reacted in that situation. The role of social media also got boom during that period people the video of Abhinandan leashed on Youtube, Instagram , Facebook, Whatsapp etc.   It also highlighted the history of freedom of press and also the purpose of this study is to make the people aware and ignite a thought among readers.

The study also reveals that in spite of previous lashings and cases against the media, they have not stopped publishing content which is defamatory in nature or which amount to threat to the security of the state. The study also shows the relevant case laws in which the media have reacted in irresponsible manner in certain serious issues like the rape case. The study also highlights the current situation of press in India. The study of the research is mainly focused on doctrinal research methodology.

INTRODUCTION

This paper deals with role of media with respect to Wing commander Abhinandan’s Case. Freedom of press is not incorporated in Constitution of India separately. It is one of the fundamental rights of the constitution of India. It is been added in article 19(1)(a) of Constitution of India. Like the author of positive school in jurisprudence i.e. AUSTIN says that “Law is the command of the sovereign and it is backed by the sanction”. So according to jurisprudence no law or liberty can be there without the restrictions, also every right cannot be absolute, freedom of press has certain restrictions attached to it i.e. given in Article 19(2) of the constitution of India[1]. Like defamatory articles are exceptions to freedom of press. Freedom of speech and expression is considered as the backbone of democratic country. Democracy means by the people, for the people and of the people. Press help in knowing the requirement of the society at large. And on the other hand it communicates to the individual the policies and the measure of the government. The role of press is very important in providing social, economic and political status to the society or people at large. By the help of freedom of press the public used to form their opinion about the issue, by this there knowledge increases and thinking capability also.

Freedom of press means and includes right of printing, publishing, painting etc. by the means of their printing right they exercise the freedom of speech and expressions by their way of ideas and their opinions. Freedom of press is not confined to only newspapers and periodicals, it also include pamphlets, circulars and every sort of publication which cover the ideas or the opinion of the individual.[2]“Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”[3]The press role is to provide educational and relevant information which will protect the country from hatred or riots among the nation and provide the social message by spreading harmony among the individuals. Every right, liberty, freedom, duty is invoked in constitution of India. And it can be invoked if there any violation of the rights, freedom etc. In constitution of India Freedom of press can be seen in two major aspects:-

  1. PREAMBLE
  2. Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution- Freedom of speech and expression.

Preamble is considered as one of the essence of any act or statue. While interpreting any law or statue if there is discrepancy the internal tools are used to interpret the statue. Like preamble is considered as one of the main tools for knowing the intention of the legislature behind making that law. The preamble of Constitution of India upholds the liberty of thought, belief, faith and expression. Here in liberty of thought and expression, the freedom of press lies to uphold the opinions or to express it by any means. Unlike the American constitution the freedom of press is not given separately under the Indian constitution. The freedom guaranteed under article 19(1)(a) is same as the freedom under article 19 of Universal Human Rights Declaration (1948). Chairman of the Drafting committee Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar strongly argued that “The press is merely another way of stating an individual or a citizen. The press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his individual capacity. The editors of press or the managerare all citizens and therefore when they choose to write in newspaper they are merely exercising their right of freedom of speech and expression and in my judgment therefore no special mention is necessary of the freedom of press at all.”[4]

According to Hohfeld[5] rights is a wider term it consists of liberties, power, immunities and privileges. This is the jural postulates all these are co related with each other. Separately freedom of press is not mentioned it is the judiciary who safe the right to press and media by pronouncing the judgment. The elements of freedom of press are so but some of them are:-

  1. Power to circulation
  2. Power to report court proceeding
  3. Power to hold an interview
  4. Power to preview criticism
  5. Power to act as a communicating medium.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

“Freedom of Press is an article of Faith with us, sanctioned by our Constitution, Validated by four decades of freedom and indispensable to our future as a Nation.”

                            -: LatePrime Minister Rajiv Gandhi

In India the trend of press and media can be traced back to the carvings, writings and inscriptures during the time of Ashoka. The press and media was very much prevalent during the Mughal era, but it modernised not before the 19th century. Spies and informants were hired by the kings, and they brought back all necessary information to the king, thus acting as a medium of communication and information. However, it was a very closed system of communication as it only circulated one way i.e., from  the informants to the king or the higher authority, rather than being circulated among the public. Nevertheless, it sufficed the need of information for a better administration and order in the state.

More developments with regard to press and media took place after the arrival of the Britishers in the 16th century. India witnessed a lot of new things including the first printing press, the first newspaper and the concept of censorship. Indian newspapers proved to be a very effective mechanism in aiding their war against the Britishers. It promoted a feeling of unity and nationalism, and inspired Indians to join the freedom movement against the Britishers. The Nationalist press in India which was established in India in 1820, played a very important role in identifying social evils like the caste system, sati practices and voicing their opinion against it. Mahatma Gandhi in his work, Young India, tried to defend the rights of newspapers against the press laws in 1920. The radio also became an important part of media after the establishment of the All India Radio in 1936.

After Independence, Indian press and media has been through a complete process of renovation and reinvention. The development of press and media through the whole of 19th and 20th century and the transitions it has been through is a very interesting process. The press and media has been almost independent throughout, except for the emergency situation of 1975, declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

With censorship imposed on the Indian newspapers and magazines, the reaction of the press and media was expected to be huge. But the manner in which the ‘so-called’ press gave up its independence shocked everyone. The Times of India, which was and is a leading newspaper of our time, suddenly became a strong supporter of theGovernment, and the newspapers underwent a change overnight to replace every headline with flattering pictures and comments in respect of the Prime Minister.

ROLE OF MEDIA IN WING COMMANDER ABHINANDAN CASE

In Abhinandan’s case, media did not exercise their self-restrain. They published all the unnecessary information which wasnot relevant in the first place. During such situations, due to media’sunauthorized sources of facts, the security and threat of the nation increases.It’s really appreciable to portray him as national hero, as he has done a work of bravery for the nation. The media however, had gone beyond his act of heroism so as to disclose every ounce of important detail regarding the mission, his jet and his techniques which amounted to an act of threat to the security of the nation.

Different news channels produced different information and some of them even fueled the idea of a war. The media is considered as the major influential source of communication in the society at large. The message of war that they were suggesting was not only ridiculous, by also promoted the idea of danger and threat to the people during that period of time. This step of media was very disrespectful.

Nowadays, the media channels mainly work for increasing their TRP and can go to any extent and publicize anything. They have forgotten their aims and objectives. In the case of Abhinandan, they left no stone unturned. Not even his family was spared by the media. During this situation, what was expected of the media was an act of sensibility, sensitivity and support for the family of Wing Commander Abhinandan.The media had infringed Abhinandan’s right to privacy and published or telecasted all the information publicly. The media has been warned earlier for not publishing information of this kind which isunnecessary. Once NDTV had been charged for this. But with rise in popularity, they have forgotten their limits. Ongoing debates and public opinion regarding this issue had been witnessed, and there was more hatred and fear among the people in the society.

Nowadays, there can be seen a clear cut variation in the content as well as the medium of media and press, with the introduction of blogs and you-tube channels, not to forget Facebook and Whatsapp, which has been acting and growing as a huge platform for communication and networking. But it is rightly said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

 In India where democracy prevails, people have become more aware and competent with respect to the media and press, as they handle and control the media and press to a very large extent. The video of the abhinandan that got viral everywhere in social media where he praises Pakistan officials for taking care of him, their started so many tweet in his name people started keeping their opinion. Ravi Shankar Prasad, union minister of Information Technology declared restrain on what people should watch on social media websites. “In the light of the situation prevailing in the country today, we expect the social media platforms to ensure that they should not allow their platform to be abused by content which is designed to weaken the morale of the country,[6] he declared.

Hashtags beside Abhinandan’s name along with tweets and his you-tube videos trending as No. 1, not to forget about the advanced technologies we have these days, these images and videos went viral much before any official confirmation was made by Pakistan.Although social media played a very important role in confirming the safety of the pilot in the enemy soil, the social media uproar went pretty much against the rules of Geneva Convention and Humanitarian Laws.

What was more disturbing, or more appropriately ridiculous, was that the whole issue transgressed into a virtual war of right and wrong, morality and ethics globally, mainly between the residents of Indians and Pakistanis. What was more shocking was that the social media was being used as a platform for spreading criticism and hate in the form of Whatsapp messages and Instagram posts being shared, with plenty of unnecessary debates and arguments. The officials even asked you tube to take down such videos, which had a large psychological impact on the people. At a time when self-restraint was required, what happened was a whirlpool of emotions being sucked in, with zero outcome. Also, this emotional outburst was generated and controlled by the media itself, since it has the power over what it portrays to the people, and the manner in which it portrays to the people. Maybe it was the reason why Abhinandan’s case was hyped up by the media, but very few know about the case of Kulbhushan Jhadav, an Indian Nationalist, who was sentenced to death after being caught as a spy in Balochistan in 2017. He was tortured in a similar manner, but sadly, very few articles and posts are available online with respect to his case and situation. Where was the media then? Or was he not much of an Indian as compared to Abhinandan Varthaman. This brings out the greatest failure of the Indian Media.

CASE LAWS WHICH BRINGS OUT FAILURE OF MEDIA

  • KATHUA RAPE CASE[7]

We can never forget the horrific incident that came up in January 2018, when an eight year old girl was brutally raped and murdered in a village near Kathua, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The press publicized the photograph of that girl gazing straight into the camera, along with her name and all that there was to be revealed about her. What exactly was the attempt of the media was difficult to understand. Perhaps they wanted the heart wrenching picture to excite anger and agitation among the people of the country. The Delhi High Court issued notices to several news channels and papers for revealing the identity of the victim. The picture of the little girl was viral everywhere, starting from the local dailies like Rising Kashmir to the reputed newspaper, The Times Of India, not to leave behind Scoopwhoop, Newslaundry and Indian Express.  What gave them such liberty was an issue that became a matter of discussion and concern. By the interpretation of Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code it was stated that incase of the death of any minor or deceased victim, the identity can only be revealed by:“With the authorization in writing of, the next of kin of the victim: Provided that no such authorization shall be given by the next of kin to anybody other than the chairman or the secretary, by whatever name called, of any recognized welfare institution or organization.”

  • 26/11 MUMBAI ATTACK CASE[8]

While India has an Information Technology (IT) protocol which the press and media needs to comply with, especially in times of emergencies and crisis. However the scenario of the Mumbai Attack portrayed nothing but contradiction. The media stood as close as possible to the affected areas, and sent out live verdicts and live scenes directly from those areas, and as a result they ended up reporting even the operational details which aided the terrorists sheltered within those areas, who acted on the basis of those reports. The reporters reported what they saw, not what they were supposed to report. Indian media to be blamed again for it callousness?

  • JNU KANHAIYA KUMAR CASE[9]

The media went about covering the entire incident of alleged anti-nationalism slogans at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), after which five students were charged with the offence of Sedition, leading to the arrest of a student, Kanhaiya Kumar, over a footage which had no evidence or backing to prove that it wasn’t a distorted video or had no actual facts to support the arrest. The case showed a major decline in the reliability of the media, on which almost the entire Indian population is dependent on. The JNU case if not anything, had exposed the loss of credibility on the Indian Media and the irresponsibility that tagged along.

  • . COW SLAUGHTER AND CHILD LIFTERS[10]

A large scale lynching took place across the country starting from Tripura to Maharashtra, based on the suspicion of being a child lifter or committing the act of cow slaughter. These mostly arose out of rumors and fake news that spread across the social media. It was rightly said, “Social media kills.”The social media turned “anti-social”, leading to the death of around 22 people across the country, including a transgender. The Police blamed the rumor mongers and the fake messages created by the social media which owed to such a great mishap.

By the above case studies and research it is very evident that the press is manhandling its powers. For increasing their popularity they don’t even think before publishing or broadcasting such issues on media. Like as in the rape cases or sensitive issue the family of the victim need supports during that period of time. Even some of them refuses to open the identity of the accused or for the interview of the victim. In certain sensitive issue the press should contribute in not publishing or broadcasting anything which affects to security and solidarity of the nation.

EXCEPTIONS TO FREDOOM OF PRESS

As it is said in the jurisprudence every right is attached with the liability. So no right is considered as absolute in nature it is subject to certain exceptions. As freedom of press is not expressly mentioned in Constitution of India. It is enumerated in article 19(1)(a) of constitution i.e freedom of speech and expression. It does not confer an absolute right to publish, without any responsibility, whatever one may choose or unrestricted or unbridled license that gives immunity for every possible languages and does not grant punishment for those who abuse this freedom[11]. The restrictions are been specified in article 19(2) of the Constitution of India which restricts the press to use excessive powers.

  1. Sovereignty and integrity of nation- This restriction is been inserted by Sixteenth Amendment. This focuses on restricting the person to say anything against the sovereignity and integrity of nation.
  2. Security of state- All the speeches or publications which raises the threat of the state by crime of violence, waging war and rebellion against the government, all these can be confined in interest of security of state.
  3. Friendly relation with foreign state- This was added by (First amendment) Act of 1951. If your words/speech tends to menace the friendly relations of India with other State.
  4. Public order- It was added by the First Ammendment, Act of 1951. This amendment become necessary because Supreme court in case of RomeshThappar v. State Of Madras[12], have refused to permits the imposition on restrictions of  right to free speech in interest of public order, because it was not a permissible ground of restrain. The expression ‘public order’ connotes the sense of public peace, safety and tranquility.[13]
  5. Decency or Morality– However, we know that the standard of morality varies from time to time and from place to place, person to person. In India, the scope of indecency and obscenity under the existing law is illustrated in section 292 and 296 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  6. DefamationPrevents any person from making any statement that injures the reputation of another. Also, Defamation is a criminal offence punishable in Section 500 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  7. Incitement to an offence. It prohibits a person from making any statement that incites people to commit offence. For example is the cases against BJP leaders for Babri incident and cases against Raj Thackeray for his anti-North Indians speech.
  8. Contempt of court– The right conferred under article 19(1)(a) of constitution of India does not confer the court from punishing for their contempt spoken or printed words or any expression.

In wing commander abhinandan case media did not restrain themselves from the reasonable restrictions that is been provide by the legislature in article 19(2) of Constitution of India. They have made the statements in so many news channels that provoke the people for committing any offence. Many of the news channels were even discussing about the war. Even though the security of the nation was on threat during that period of time, nobody felt secure at that point of time.

CURRENT STATUS OF PRESS IN INDIA

The press and media is regarded to be a very important organ apart from the three organs of justice- Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, for keeping a check on the activities of the people of the country and the working of the Government, for keeping everyone informed and updated. It is like the watchdog of the Indian Government.

According to the World Press Index, 2018, India ranks at 138. The World Press Index mainly takes into consideration the freedom of press in a particular country, rather than the quality of press and journalism. Several other parameters like environment, legal framework and transparency are also taken into account. Inspite of the freedom of speech and expression, the Indian Press and media faces a lot of difficulties, most of which are the outcome of issues created by them alone. However, sometimes media falls prey to harassment and even assault. The poor state of media can be attributed to numerous other reasons as well. Mr Krishna Prasad, a senior journalist, quoted a line from the book of Charles Dickens which said, “As far as Indian Journalism is concerned we are in the best of times and worst of times. While journalism has grown in size, a matter of concern is that press freedom is questioned by all and India has slipped to the 138th position in terms of press freedom. Insulting journalism and name-calling has become a trend and 14 journalist including Gauri Lankesh, Shujaat Bukhari, have met been killed while on duty. It is also sad that corruption and black mailing have become part of journalism”According to him, journalists should emphasize over the fact that whether they are actually reporting the stories that they are supposed to tell, and in the manner in which they are supposed to be told, and if not, what are the reasons for such malfunctioning.

The media has undoubtedly spread its branches across the country, with over 70, 000 newspapers and 690 plus, news channels, but the saddening part is that business has taken over professionalism. Media houses look for reporters who are willing to work for lower wages and at deplorable conditions, which leads to poor quality of work. Also, the issue of morality has become a very big question mark on the face of Indian media. There was a case in which the reporters of Zee News were arrested for trying to blackmail Jindal Steel, for an amount of 100 crore.

The people of our country have a great faith in the media and follow it like some religion. So the media should be careful of what it publishes and broadcasts, as it influences the people at large. Today, TRP is given so much value over good content, that it is almost becoming impossible to hold on to the real purpose of media. It is true that the media covers serious and sensitive issues like death of farmers, rise in prices of essential goods, however, these topics constitute of about 15-20 percent of the content, while the rest is mostly dedicated to drama, film biz and gossips. The problem here is not the incorporation of these subjects into the sea of media, but the need for balance, which is almost absent in today’s scenario. The press is considered to be the fourth pillar of justice and in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “The role of journalism should be service. The press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates the crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.”

CONCLUSION

India is a democratic country, and all changes must be bought about keeping in mind the democratic structure. It is very essential that the press and media works hand-to-hand with the judiciary system, for ensuring a greater cause i.e., public welfare.

In respect of improvements, stringent laws should be in force with penalties like cancellation of licenses and imposing heavy fines. There should be a filter between what the media covers and what it makes available for the audience to see. A committee should be set up for this respect. Sensitive issues should be given more focus, and only required information should be channeled, so as to make people aware, without giving away too much of information or causing any amount of discomfort either to the victims or to the family.

Credit should be given to the media when and where it deserves, and meetings with the media heads should be conducted in order to keep them updated with any new rules and regulations. This will help them stay in check and will keep them under pressure. IT rules should be strengthened and necessary amendments should be made in order to make it up to date with today’s affairs.

Efforts should be made to strike a balance without compromising on the quality. After all it is the media which voices public opinion and reflects the will of the public.


[1]Dias RMW; Jurisprudence.,(Butterworth&co.1994).

[2]Sakalpapers(P) ltd. V. union of india, AIR 1962 SC 305.

[3]Romeshthappar v. state of madras, AIR 1950 SC 124,128

[4]Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. VII p 780 (2nd December 1948).

[5]Supra note 1.

[6]SujeetRajan, release of abhinandan varthaman and social media influence(2019), https://www.newsindiatimes.com (last visited at 11thapril, 2019)

[7](2018).

[8]MayaMirchandani, 26/11 and the media: where were the protocols? ,(2018), http://www.orfoonline.org (last visited at 11th april, 2019)

[9]Viju Cherian, JNU row :perfectcase study to show how media is losing its credibility(2016), http://www.hindustantimes.com (last visited at 11th April, 2019.

[10]Prabhas k Dutta, 16thlynchings in 2 months. Is social media the new serial killer? (2018), http://www.indiatoday.in (last visited at 11thapril, 2019).

[11]RomeshThappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.

[12]Ibid

[13]Central Prison v. Ram ManoharLohia, AIR 1960 SC 633

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