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Media And Censorship Amid The Pandemic -Harkeerat Kaur

Updated: Oct 21


INTRODUCTION

The Indian Constitution gives us the right to freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right, but provides with certain precincts for reasons of communal and religious harmony provided the history of such tensions in the State.

Such restrictions are placed over objectionable content explained under the Information Technology Act, 2011 as “anything that threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order”.

Censorship, in simple words, means the restraint of speech, public communication or other information, where such information is measured objectionable, damaging, receptive or inconvenient.

CENSORSHIP OF MEDIA

India had dropped 2 ranks and has been ranked 142nd out of 180 countries according to the annual Reporters without borders analysis in April 2020. According to The World Press Freedom Index 2020, the situation of security for the media of India has improved in the last one year. Yet, there have been constant violations of the freedom of press, violent attacks on journalists, and entrapments by political activists, etc.

Media censorship involves the restraint of speech or expression, which is protected by the Constitution of the state. The Indian media does not have the benefit of extensive freedom.

Indira Gandhi, during her tenure as the Prime Minister obligated censorship of press during the Emergency in 1975, which was further removed in 1977.

For more than 6 months after the declaration of emergency, a set of 3 laws were passed in February 1976, namely, The Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matter Act, 1976; The Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Repeal Act, 1976; and The Press Council (Repeal) Act, 1976.

The Indian Media has not only faced censorship during the Emergency period, but also otherwise. There are various mediums of media censorship in India, namely press, films, etc.

PRESS – The validity of the order imposing Pre-censorship on English Newspaper of Delhi, in the case of Brij Bhushan V State of Delhi[1], directed the editor and publisher to submit their content for scrutiny before the publishing all the communal matters, the news and views about Pakistan (inclusive of photographs and cartoons). However, the Supreme Court held that this Pre-Censorship was violated the liberty of media and press and was thus struck down.

FILMS – The famous case of Bobby Art International V Om Pal Singh Hoon[2] is one such case which deals with censorship in films. This case relates to the claimed imposition of censorship on the Bollywood film Bandit Queen, which deals with the torturous life of Phoolan Devi. The film is a story of Phoolan Devi’s expression of brutality and lust of a man. Om Pal Singh Hoon was a member of the community which was portrayed in the film and filed a petition in the High Court of Delhi seeking quashing of the ‘A’ certification and restraint in the exhibition of the film in India as the main character of Phoolan Devi was portrayed as repugnant and unconscionable and a disgrace upon the womanhood of India, and also the fact that the people of his community were portrayed in an immoral manner.

The High Court favored the decision, however a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court; and the Court held that the ‘A’ certification is to be upheld and also stated that anything which would appeal a prudent man is obscene.

CENSORSHIP OF MEDIA AMID THE PANDEMIC

The Novel Corona Virus outbreak has put things to a standstill. The mishandling of the situation by the current government has mounted the citizens with anger. Amid India’s calamitous lockdown, the Government seeks to censor Covid-19 reports. The Indian Government has urged the Supreme Court of India for the media outlets to get the approval of the Government at New Delhi before broadcasting or publishing any information related to the impact Corona Virus and the Pandemic on India and what the Government is doing to curb the outbreak.

Instead of censuring the Government for seeking to gag and control the media and press, in blatant breach of the rights of free speech and freedom of the press guaranteed under the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court chose to join hands with the government in declaiming against the unfavorable impact of alleged “fake news”.

However, the Court anticipated an alternate means for the government to induce the media to uphold its narrative on the Corona Virus Pandemic, and, portentously, united this with an intimidation that whichever media outlet was proven to be unsuccessful in publicizing what is the official and authentic version of developments could be put on trial for distributing fake news.

CONCLUSION

History has constantly revealed that no matter which political party is in power, it very naturally imposes censorships. Censorship of the truth may put citizens of India, and sooner or later of the whole world, at immense risk for the reason that the global impact of the Corona Virus outbreak hinges India’s capability to administer its spread and impact, and also the country’s fourth estate being competent enough to hold the government answerable to this consequence. Instead of imposing censorship on the media, the Indian Government must possess as a transparent body during the pandemic emergency as it would directly help in reducing the chance of fake news being broadcasted, it would prove to be an essential part in India’s fight against the Corona Virus and it would also reduce the criticism on the Government.

References –

1. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/43023/

2. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1400858/

3. https://www.bbc.com/news/33844154

4. https://lexquest.in/censorship-of-media-in-india/

5. https://lexquest.in/censorship-of-media-in-india/

6. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/4/17/amid-the-pandemic-censorship-in-india-can-be-dangerous/

[1] Brij Bhushan and Anr V State of Delhi, 1950 AIR 129, 1950 SCR 605 [2] Bobby Art International, Etc V Om Pal Singh Hoon & Ors, May 1 1996




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