top of page
  • Paras Sharma

Freedom of Press and media and its role amid Pandemics like COVID-19

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Written by Nandini Tripathy, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad


Freedom of press is a deduced or implied fundamental proper in India, which Indian residents are having by using distinctive feature of Article 19(1)(a). The obligation of press and media in cutting-edge situation has escalated hastily because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Citizens are entirely dependent on media and press as they have not any different method to accumulate information because of the imposition of lockdown to shrink the outcomes of the deadly coronavirus. In a completely current interview with journalists from Print Media, our honourable PM, Narendra Modi requested the media to behave as a hyperlink between government and people and provide continuous remarks, at both national and global stage regarding COVID-19. This article is concerning freedom of press, the critical function of press and media in instances of world disaster, and the need for regulation of press in case of Infodemic which will mitigate social tension created because of the unfold of incorrect information associated with COVID-19.

Evolution of Freedom of Press in India

The necessity to consist of Freedom of press in charter was cognized via different nations after Sweden delivered Freedom of Press Act, 1766 of their constitution on second December 1766. To ratify Freedom of press into its charter. Similarly, in US constitution, there's an express provision acknowledging freedom of press which changed into adopted on fifteenth December 1791 by way of one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. In India, the framers of the constitution didn’t sense the need to offer an explicit provision for Freedom of press or freedom of media. The phrases of Dr. B.R Ambedkar from Constituent Assembly debates pondered that there's no requirement of any separate law affirming freedom of press. The press has no unique rights which aren't to be given or which are not to be exercised via the citizen in his individual capacity. The editor of a press or the supervisor is all citizens and therefore once they pick out to jot down in newspapers, they are simply exercising their right to expression, and in my judgment consequently no special point out is essential of the freedom of press at all. In 1954, a Press Commission become appointed, which enquired into all subjects linked with the running of Press and all aspects of journalism.

Freedom of press in India attracts its legitimacy from:

• Preamble

• Article 19 (1)(a) of the charter


The following words of the Preamble shows that Indian constitution implicitly includes freedom of press- Secure to all its citizen the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Freedom of press falls within the purview of Liberty of notion and expression. Therefore, the Preamble signifies the necessity of freedom of press that is in addition identified as a human proper and as a essential proper within the Indian constitution with the aid of virtue of 19(1) (a).

Article 19 (1)(a) of the charter

Article 19 (1) (a): Every citizen has the liberty of speech and expression.

Freedom of press falls inside the ambit of freedom of expression. Therefore, freedom of press is an implied or deduced essential right. Article 19 (1) (a) is protected in the Indian charter, by means of the equal token, as Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 which states that:

Everyone has the proper to freedom of opinion and expression; this proper consists of freedom to maintain opinions without interference and to searching for, receive and impart information and ideas via any media and no matter frontiers.

Article 19 (1) (a) has 4 components embedded in it:

• Freedom of speech

• Freedom of expression

• Freedom of press

• Right to information

Press is the watchdog to peer that each trial is conducted pretty, openly and above board, but the watchdog can also every so often spoil free and has to be punished for misbehaviour. A very simple principle of Jurisprudence is that no proper exists without certain restrictions. Similarly, the freedom of press is also not unfettered or absolute and it is issue to reasonable restrictions referred to in Article 19(2). Misuse of this freedom not only imposes civil liabilities but also has penal sanctions. Following are the affordable regulations on the exercising of the proper conferred on residents by means of 19(1) (a):

• interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,

• the security of the State,

• friendly family members with overseas States,

• public order,

• decency or morality or

• contempt of courtroom,

• defamation or

• incitement to an offence

Laws including the Indian Penal law, law of contempt, Copyright Act, Official Secrets Act, Freedom of Information Act, Law of torts, Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act and so forth limits the liberty of press in India.

Freedom of press and its essence in a democratic country

Freedom of Press is an Article of Faith with us, sanctified by way of our Constitution, verified through 4 a long time of freedom and indispensable to our destiny as a Nation. -Rajiv Gandhi

Freedom of press is recounted as the fourth pillar or chamber of democracy. The essential principle of freedom of press is human beings’ proper to understand. Blackstonian concept and concept of freedom of press, expressed in 1769 contained 4 primary elements which still paperwork the crux of the concept of press freedom. They are as follows:

1. Liberty of the click is critical to the nation.

2. No preceding restraints ought to be located at the publications.

3. That does not suggest there is press freedom for doing what is prohibited via regulation.

4. Every freeman has the undoubted proper to lay what sentiment he locations before the general public, but if he publishes what is fallacious, mischievous, or unlawful he need to take the outcome of his own temerity. Freedom of press includes proper to acquire and post records, to print statistics or evaluations or to broadcast or circulate the identical. Freedom of press is relevant to all styles of printed and broadcast fabric, which includes books, journals, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, movies, radio and television programs and social media.

Freedom of press has three crucial elements:

1. Freedom of get entry to all supply of statistics

2. Freedom of flow

3. Freedom of e-book

Freedom of press is the bulwark of a democratic government. Media acts as a bridge between the humans and the authorities. In a democratic country like India, it is a sine qua non for humans to get informed about the governmental moves on each day basis. In the equal way, the authority’s officers need to also be conversant with the views of its citizens. People should receive the opportunity to talk about on public depend, that is viable simplest while press and media are freely allowed to represent exclusive points of views, with no interference of the Government. This suggests that freedom of press is necessary to strengthen the manner of democracy.

Indian case laws emphasizing at the significance of freedom of press in a democracy

In today’s free world freedom of press is the coronary heart of social and political intercourse. The press has now assumed the position of the public educator making formal and non-formal schooling feasible in a massive scale particularly within the developing world, wherein tv and different kinds of contemporary communique are not still to be had for all sections of society. The motive of the clicking is to advance the public interest with the aid of publishing facts and evaluations without which a democratic citizen [Government] cannot make responsible judgments. Newspapers being purveyors of information and views having a bearing on public administration very frequently bring material which could not be palatable to Governments and different government.

Patanjali Shastri, CJ, said in Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras: Freedom of speech of the clicking lay at the inspiration of all democratic enterprise, for without unfastened political discussion no public schooling, so essential for the right functioning of the process of presidency, is viable.

The Supreme Court determined in Union of India v. Assn. For Democratic Reforms: One sided data, disinformation, misinformation, and non-records, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive statistics which includes freedom to maintain opinions. Democracy approach Government of the human beings, by means of the humans and for the human beings. Therefore, every citizen ought to be entitled to take part inside the democratic procedure and for that reason freedom of press could be very vital for a democratic county. This demonstrates the constitutional element of freedom of press in India.

Supreme Court Cases prioritizing Freedom of press

In Sakal Papers Ltd. V. Union of India

The Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960, constant the variety of pages and length which a newspaper could publish at a positive rate changed into said with the aid of Supreme Court to be violative of freedom of press because the restrictions were no longer reasonable under the Article 19(2).

Bennett Coleman and Co. V. Union of India

The validity of the Newsprint Control Order, constant the most range of pages, and this changed into struck down by means of the Supreme Court stating it to be violative of provision of Article 19(1)(a) as the restrictions imposed had been no longer reasonable underneath Article 19(2).

In Express Newspapers v Union of India

The Supreme Court held that a law which imposes pre-censorship or curtails the flow or prevents newspapers from being began or require the Government to are searching for Government useful resource a good way to live on turned into violative of Art 19(1)(a).

In Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras

Entry and circulation of the English magazine Cross Road, published and posted in Bombay, was banned by using the Government of Madras mentioning it to be violative of freedom of speech and expression, as without liberty of circulate, book might be of little fee.

In Prabha Dutt v. Union of India

The Supreme Court directed the Superintendent of Tihar Jail to allow representatives of some newspapers to interview Ranga and Billa, the loss of life sentence convicts, as they wanted to be interviewed.

Role of Press during pandemic

Media and press play a totally critical function in a society because of the reality that citizens are in large part depending on the click for getting conversant with what is occurring throughout the globe. Moez Chakchouk, Assistant Director General for Communication & Information, UNESCO affirmed that press freedom is now more important than ever and known as on all Member States to ensure that newshounds can file on COVID-19 without interference. In times of fitness crises, the significance of correct and reliable journalism cannot be overstated. Journalists out there are doing a commendable task in acquainting humans with the unfavourable consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. They are even risking their lives in the accomplishment of the technique.

Through press and media, the not unusual people, are becoming educated regarding the COVID-19 outbreak inside the following way:

1. Making people privy to the COVID-19 symptoms and preventive measures to be taken,

2. Spreading the significance of social distancing and quarantine with a view to mitigate the quantity of COVID-19 cases.

3. Spreading information regarding effective techniques to help individuals in handling social and bodily distancing

4. Making people conversant with the policies and selections of the government.

5. Providing everyday updates of instances across the globe and probabilities of cases getting escalated.

6. Prevailing financial conditions because of the COVID-19 apocalypse.

Prime Minister in a totally recent interview on twentieth March 2020, with reporters and stakeholders from Print Media said that media has played a reward-worth position in disseminating records to each corner and cranny of this kingdom. The community of media is pan-India and unfold across cities and villages. This makes the media all of the extra substantial in combating this project and spreading correct records about it at micro stage. He laid pressure upon the importance of social distancing, asked media to spread consciousness approximately its significance, inform human beings approximately the lockdown choice by using states, and also spotlight the damaging effects of unfold of the virus, via inclusion of global records and case studies approximately other international locations.

Need for Regulation of media/ press all through COVID-19

Without high moral beliefs a newspaper is not always simplest stripped of its exquisite opportunities for public service but may additionally grow to be a public hazard to the network- Joseph Pulitzer. The fundamental proper of freedom of press is likewise difficulty to certain reasonable regulations. In this digital era, because of the technological improvements, incorrect information receives spread within fraction of seconds. Therefore, it is miles vital to reduce the liberty which residents are having with the aid of distinctive feature of Article 19(1)(a), at times, so that it will combat the spread of incorrect information regarding COVID-19. In the contemporary context it is far very essential for people to filter out the straightforward resources of facts as depending upon false facts will create a situation of panic, making the scenario even greater worse. Before counting on a piece of statistics concerning COVID-19, following verifications need to be accomplished:

• Finding out the authentic supply spreading the information or news

• If those statistics assets are trustworthy and real.

• If those facts assets are reliable and credible

• Whether the ones records are relayed as it should be

Media and press have also convoluted public know-how of COVID-19 via spreading unrealistic and fallacious records regarding the pandemic, thereby making the situation more perplex and panicky. Due to this, even the Geneva-based totally World Health Organization (WHO) and the Atlanta-based totally Centres for Disease Control (CDC) which continue to be pre-eminently credible sources of epidemics and pandemics, found itself scuffling with at the worldwide level due to the infodemic, creating a havoc many of the citizens. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), regarding faux information spreading quicker and more easily than the virus stated. People are being inaccurate by way of the spread of conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 and myths regarding the remedy of disorder and lots of greater. Some of the innumerable COVID-19 myths, which can be clarified through WHO to be myths, are:

1. Transmission fee of coronavirus relies upon at the temperature.

2. Taking a warm bath can prevent contamination

3. Non vegetarian food intake can result in contamination

4. Vaccines against pneumonia guard in opposition to novel coronavirus

5. The virus influences only the elderly

6. The Indian immune system is better than the west and for that reason Indians will survive the contamination higher

Steps taken to combat the spread of COVID-19 related incorrect information

Though censorship of press and media is never a very good answer in a democracy but looking at the panic-mongering situation winning due the outspread of misinformation, the authorities is asking to accomplish that. There are two kinds of censorship:

1. Post-censorship: Post-censorship is whilst something is taken down after it has been published due to its deplorable content. They are many legal guidelines managing submit- censorship wherein humans can be booked and punished.

2. Pre-censorship: There are no specific hints or statue regarding pre censorship, as a result certain tests are advanced by way of the courts. Pre- censorship could be very hardly ever ordered via the court.

To tackle the scenario, a team of WHO fable busters are working with search and media companies like Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and others to counter the unfold of rumours, which include incorrect information like: the virus cannot live to tell the tale inside the hot climate, taking an excessive dose of chloroquine medicinal drug can defend us, ingesting massive portions of ginger and garlic can save you the virus and so on. International Press Institute is carefully tracking press freedom regulations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court of India has additionally directed the media to consult and submit the official model of coronavirus-related trends at the same time as hearing a government plea to vet media coverage. The Narendra Modi government has sought to each co-opt the media and slash its reporting in its effort to comprise poor Covid-19 coverage. PM emphasised that it is critical and essential to manipulate the unfold of pessimism, negativity, and hearsay mongering.


Freedom of press is called the bulwark against mystery authorities and is pivotal for the development of a democratic country like India and is regularly described as the oxygen of democracy, without which a democratic society cannot maintain. Press and media have a fundamental role to play all through the COVID-19 pandemic and has the duty to offer steering to the people and assist them to address this international fitness disaster. Also, the Union ministry of Information and Broadcasting has directed all states and union territories to set the seal on operational continuity of print and electronic media amid COVID-19 outbreak, and make sure there's no restraint to the printing and distribution of newspapers in all cities. However, there may be a want for law of freedom of press within the contemporary scenario as deceptive information related to COVID-19 are spreading round the sector with the rate of light, creating a havoc; thereby multiplying the burden of straightforward media assets, as now, those facts sources have the duty of not best spreading correct facts however also countering the misleading facts. Therefore, it is miles very vital for human beings to segregate and chalk out the honest and reliable media resources spreading information associated with COVID-19 as opposed to blindly believing and further spreading any type of statistics.


© Copyrighted Material! Contact the publisher for permissions.
bottom of page