The Need to Define Freedom of Speech Contours for Indian Media

Must Read

What is the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016?

The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (“RERA”) is an Act of the Parliament. It seeks to protect...

Should the Exorbitant Amounts Charged for RT-PCR Tests be Refunded?

Introduction A plea has been filed in the Honourable Supreme Court of India seeking a refund of exorbitant amounts charged...

Should CCTV’s be Installed in the Police Station?

Introduction In a recent judgment, the bench led by Justice Nariman issued directions to both the state and Union Territory...

A Legal Analysis of the West Bengal Political Crisis on IPS Deputation

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has recently summoned three IPS officers of West Bengal (WB). The decision was...

Explained: Postal Ballot for NRIs

At the end of November 2020, Election Commission sent a proposal to the law ministry to amend the Representation...

Explained: Constitutional Provisions and Legislations With Regards to a Person with Disabilities

The world celebrates December 3 as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This day is also called World...

Follow us

The freedom of speech of the press in India and the extent to which it extends is a pertinent question today. On one end, the pandemic has seen a rise in arrests of journalists. These arrests are a threat to media freedom and their right to dissent. On the other side, the Indian media is heavily criticised for distorting facts to sensationalise news. Absolute freedom of speech thereby could enable journalists to encourage communal disharmony and civil unrest.

Every case relating to journalistic freedom has now become a matter of grave political and legal importance. There is a dire need for courts to contextualise the legal precedents concerning Article 19 and the freedom of expression allowed to the press. The courts should also define the extent of curbs on such freedom under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. However, the courts currently decide on every case on an individual basis, leading to inconsistent rulings. 

This phenomenon is clearly reflected in the case of Sudharshan News’ broadcast about the “infiltration of Muslims” in civil services. The Delhi High Court stayed the broadcast of the show titled “UPSC Jihad” whereas the Supreme Court refused to do so on the same day. 


Suresh Chavhanke, owner and chief editor of Sudarshan News, shared a promotional video for his show on Twitter. The footage used terms such as “Jamia ke Jihadi” while talking about the rise of Muslim civil servants. The video led to numerous enraged citizens filing multiple FIRs against the channel across states. More than 1,700 citizens — including prominent journalists, film directors, lawyers and civil society members — signed a petition to seven chief ministers. The petition demanded that an FIR be registered against Chavhanke for spreading ‘hate speech’. The Indian Police Service Association denounced the video as communal and irresponsible journalism in a tweet. The Indian Police Foundation and several other people demanded strict action against Chavhanke.

The Supreme Court and Delhi High Court orders 

 The Supreme Court on 28th July refused to pass a pre-broadcast injunction order to stop the telecast. The bench comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud & KM Joseph stated that it has to desist from imposing a pre-broadcast injunction based on an “unverified transcript of a 49-second clip”. However, the court noted the views expressed in the video had a “divisive potential”. Thus, it stated that petition had thus raised significant issues bearing on the “protection of constitutional rights”. On the same day, Delhi High Court had stayed the telecast of the show. 

Even after the Supreme court order, the Delhi High Court stood by its decision. It stated that the respondents admitted to the veracity of the clip played before the High Court. It thereby justified the reason for its differing view since the Supreme Court had refused to stay the order stating the clip to be unverified. It stated that the promo is prima face in violation of Programme Code set out under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. 

The High Court will hear from the respondent on 1st September. The Supreme Court issued notice to Union of India, Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association as well as Sudarshan News. It will hear the matter on 15th September. 

Increasing fake news and misleading narratives

Indian media has lately seen an alarming rise in fake news. Television news especially has faced heavy criticism for sensationalising news as well as misleading viewers. One such recent case was that of infamous television anchor Arnab Goswami. The case was regarding multiple FIRs on Goswami’s statements linking a masjid to a gathering of migrants outside Bandra station and politicising the Palghar lynching case. The Bombay High Court leaned on the side of journalistic freedom. It suspended the FIRs and stated that there was no prima facie case against him. 

The court’s protection provided to Goswami, however, lies in contrast with the plight of journalists in the country. It also brings attention to the inconsistency of the Supreme Court regarding staying of FIRs. While the Supreme Court stayed FIRs against Amish Devgan and OpIndia’s Nupur Sharma, it refused to do so for the FIRs against Vinod Dua. This alarming trend alludes to protection provided for pro-government media. On the other end, dissenting media is being increasingly stifled. 

Declining Journalistic Freedom 

The curb on journalistic expression is a vital issue in the country. India’s place in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index has dropped. It was 136th in 2015 and is now 142nd in 2020. 

In addition to assaults and deaths of journalists, the year has also been a strife with many FIRs filed against journalists. These arrests have continued even during the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been accusations of the government stifling the media. Meanwhile, the media stands accused of sensationalising and inciting unrest in society. 

The arrest of journalists in 2020

  • UP lodged two FIRs against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire. This was concerning an article about Yogi Adityanath’s presence at the Ram Navami festival. 
  • The J&K Police booked photo-journalist Masrat Zahra. This was under section 13 of the UAPA and 505 of the IPC. They booked her in the Cyber Police Station of the Kashmir Zone for her social media posts. 
  • The government booked Dhaval Patel, editor of the Face of Nation, with sedition. This was for writing about the change in Gujarat’s political leadership by the BJP after the State’s rapid rise of coronavirus cases. 
  • Delhi Police’s crime branch registered an FIR against senior journalist Vinod Dua.This was based on a complaint filed by Delhi BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar.
  • West Bengal Police booked five TV journalists after they conducted a sting operation. The operation showed state ministers and TMC MLAs allegedly taking bribes.
  • Maharashtra police booked Rahul Zori, a TV9 Marathi reporter. They booked him for reporting irregularities in the relief camps for migrants.

These cases only serve as a few examples of the rising police action faced by the media. This trend is prevalent across different states as well as political parties. But, Goswami’s case has gained significant traction. This is due to the political and ideological battles ongoing in the country. 

The way ahead 

The country is at an interesting crossroad today. On one end, rising fake news and sensationalism by the media is causing disharmony in the country. On the other end, there is a dire threat to dissent by those in power. The courts can play an essential role by striking a balance between both.

The Bombay High Court order in the Goswami case widens the scope of journalistic freedom against the threat of public harmony. The protection provided to Goswami must be extended to other journalists as well. 

The Goswami order sets high standards for proving a certain speech caused public disharmony. It should be ensured that such strict interpretation is applied to all cases regarding freedom of the press. However, the Sudarshan case might be able to highlight the need to place curbs on freedom of speech. It could lay down a broad line wherein freedom of speech can be said to veer strongly into the category of hate speech. 

Facts of each case will play a crucial role in determining the verdict. But, the judiciary must ensure that the curbs applied to these journalists are fair. Currently, the Supreme court has various pending petitions asking for guidelines for filing FIRs against journalists

Recently, the Supreme court heard a petition asking for the regulation of new channels. The petition also asks the government to set up an independent broadcast regulatory authority. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued a notice on 7th August 2020 to the central government, seeking a response within four weeks. The petition stated that sections of electronic media “have been spreading negativity and enmity among the different communities of the nation”.

Thereby, there is a strong need for the judiciary to step in and reiterate a universal view through a series of decisions on press freedom. This will help determine where Indian jurisprudence lies on the tussle between public harmony and journalistic freedom of expression. is now on Telegram. Follow us for regular legal updates and judgments of the court. Follow us on Google News, InstagramLinkedInFacebook & Twitter. You can subscribe to our Weekly Email Updates. You can also contribute stories like this and help us spread awareness for a better society. Submit Your Post Now.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest News

Parents of Road Accident Victim Entitled To Compensation: Delhi High Court

Justice JR Midha said, “Even if parents are not dependent on their children at the time of an accident, they will certainly be dependent, both financially and emotionally, upon them at the later stage of their life, as the children were dependent upon their parents in their initial years.”

Plea Challenging the AIBE Rules Framed by BCI Filed in the Supreme Court

A Writ Petition was presently filed in the Supreme Court by a newly enrolled lawyer challenging the All India Bar Examination Rules 2010 which have been framed by the Bar Council of India which mandates that an advocate has to qualify for the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) to practice law after enrollment.

Bombay High Court: Mere Presence at the Crime Scene Not Enough for Punishment

The Bombay High Court ruled that it cannot be considered a crime if a person is merely present at the crime scene which falls under the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels and Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women Act 2016. It also quashed two First Information Reports (FIR) against two individuals who were arrested in a raid at a dance bar by the Santacruz Police, in 2017.

CAIT Files a Plea Against WhatsApp’s New Privacy Policy in the Supreme Court

Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has filed a petition against WhatsApp’s new privacy rules in the Supreme Court. The petition says that WhatsApp which is known to render public services by providing a platform to communicate has recently imposed a privacy policy that is unconstitutional, which not only goes against the fundamental rights of citizens but also jeopardizes the national security of our country.

RTI Activist Files a Plea in Bombay High Court Against Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin

On Saturday, a plea has been filed before the Bombay High Court by an activist stating that Bharat Biotech Covaxin had not been granted full approval but a restricted use in clinical trials according to the Drugs Comptroller General of India. The Company's phase 3 trials are ongoing and the DGCI has not made any data available in the public domain for peer- review by independent scientists.

WhatsApp Emails Delhi HC Judge Asking Her Not To Hear the Plea Challenging New Privacy Policy

The Delhi High Court raised strong objection to an E-mail sent by WhatsApp asking a judge not to hear the plea which challenges its new privacy policy. Justice Pratibha Singh said that the e-mail that was withdrawn later was totally unwarranted as she was anyway going to recuse from hearing the plea which was filed by Rohilla Chaitanya who contends that the new privacy policy of WhatsApp provides 360-degree access to a customer’s virtual activity and is against the fundamental right of privacy.

TRP Scam Case: Bombay HC Extends Protection To Arnab Goswami and Other Employees Till the Next Hearing

On Friday, the Bombay High court extended the protection that was given, to Republic TV’s Editor in Chief Arnab Goswami and other employees of ARG Outlier Media Private Limited till January 29th in the alleged case of Television Rating Point manipulation. A status report was submitted by the police to the division bench of Justices S.S.Shinde and Manish Pitale by the Police on the ongoing case.

Plea Seeks FIR Against Maharashtra Minister Dhananjay Munde in Bombay HC for False Info

A plea has been filed in Bombay High Court seeking an FIR against Maharashtra minister Dhananjay Munde who is undergoing times of trouble due to his extra-marital affair. Recently, an FIR had been lodged against Munde by a woman, accusing him of raping her sister. Munde clarified that he was actually in a relationship with that woman and had two children. He accused the two women of blackmailing him.

Writ Petition for Compensation Accepted by Calcutta High Court 

Introduction The Petitioner Purna Ch. Biswas filed a Writ Petition with the complaint that their claims for a higher quantum of compensation have not yet...

No Members Could Be Disqualified Without Authorisation by Political Party: Gujarat High Court

Excerpt The dispute application no.7 of 2020 filed by respondent no.2 before designated authority. Thereafter the designated authority order dated 28.10.2020 disqualified the petitioner and...

More Articles Like This

- Advertisement -