Kamal Morarka

Press in India and the freedom of speech

Posted by Kamal Morarka Blog
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The new Chairman of the Press Council of India has raised a vital point which has created a flutter in the media. The purpose of the Council was to keep an eye on the general standards of the Press and attend to complaints with the limited powers it had. Expectedly, it turned out to be a toothless body. Any person aggrieved against false and malicious things printed against him had to go to court to get his name cleared. Knowing our legal process it would go on for 10-15 years rendering the whole process infructuous. The new Chairman has pleaded two things one to give power to the Council to take deterrent action and two to include the electronic media within the purview of the Council. These are important issues raised by the Press Council and deserve to be fully debated so that a consensus could emerge. What is acceptable what is unacceptable, what is decent what is indecent, what is objectionable what is not objectionable differs from time to time, society to society. However at a particular time in a particular society there is always a considered world view on all this. In India we have people who believe even film censorship should be abolished and people should be free to watch what they want to watch and people should be free to show what they want to show. At the other end of the spectrum we have the moral police who will vandalise M. F. Hussain’s exhibition because he has painted a nude picture of a Hindu goddess forgetting that Khajuraho and Konark are full of such depictions.

In Anna Hazare’s home town they tie a person who consumes alcohol him to a electric pole in front of the temple and beat him up. Is this what we want? Of course there should be no press censorship, but a individual must have an avenue for redressal if his reputation has been harmed. Incidentally freedom of the press is not enshrined in our Constitution unlike USA where it is. In India we have Article 14 which gives freedom of speech to an individual. The Supreme Court has expanded that to mean freedom of speech for the press also. It is one thing for a individual to say what he wants and quite another for a newspaper to have the same freedom. But this has been accepted. Do we say Press Council should be abolished? Do we say it should be made more powerful? Or we say Press Council should carry on being as ineffective as it is?

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