Legal Article

Freedom of Press and Personal Liberty: An Exploration Through India’s Constitution

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

Article

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Published on: 3 Aug, 2023

Introduction: Freedom of Press and Personal Liberty. The Constitution of India, while not explicitly mentioning ‘Freedom of the Press,’ has always recognized its paramount importance by embedding it within the ambit of Article 19(1)(a), which guarantees the Freedom of Speech and Expression. On the other hand, Article 21 ensures the right to life and personal liberty. The relationship between the freedom of the press and personal liberty is a compelling dance of democracy, showcasing the balance between individual rights and collective progress.

Freedom of the Press: The Fourth Pillar:

The press is often termed as the ‘Fourth Estate,’ signifying its role as a watchdog and its importance alongside the three branches of government – the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary.

  • Article 19(1)(a) provides that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The judiciary has consistently interpreted this to include the freedom of the press, thereby acknowledging its crucial role in a democratic setup.

Article 21: Personal Liberty & Beyond:

  • ‘Life’ and ‘Personal Liberty’ as enshrined in Article 21 isn’t just mere existence but living with dignity, which involves being informed, expressing oneself, and participating in public life.
  • The right to know and be informed, inherently connected to the press, has been recognized as a facet of personal liberty. Therefore, the role of the press in disseminating information becomes a cornerstone of this right.

Interplay between Freedom of the Press and Personal Liberty:

  1. Right to Know: As the press unfolds stories, reports events, and provides analysis, it fuels the right of individuals to be informed. An informed citizenry is crucial for the functioning of a democracy.
  2. Privacy Concerns: While the press has a right to report, it’s bound by the individual’s right to privacy. The delicate balance was highlighted in the case of R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu, where the court held that public figures have a right to privacy unless the publication serves a larger public interest.
  3. Press as a Check: By uncovering issues of public importance and ensuring government accountability, the press indirectly safeguards personal liberties by acting as a check on potential governmental overreach.
  4. Challenges & Restrictions: The state, citing reasons like public order, defamation, or national interest, can impose reasonable restrictions on the freedom of the press. However, these restrictions are tested on the anvil of necessity and proportionality, ensuring they don’t trample upon personal liberties.
  5. Landmark Cases: In the Bennett Coleman & Co. vs. Union of India case, the Supreme Court held that freedom of the press is part of the Freedom of Speech and Expression. It emphasized the role of the press in fostering the democratic ethos and in ensuring the public’s right to know.

Conclusion:

The relationship between the freedom of the press and personal liberty in the context of India’s Constitution underscores the dynamic equilibrium essential for a thriving democracy. As guardians of constitutional values, both the press and the judiciary have pivotal roles to play. Ensuring a free press while upholding personal liberties remains one of the central tenets for the world’s largest democracy, emphasizing the vision and foresight of India’s constitutional framers.