FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION
IV Semester, National Law University, Jodhpur
Speech is God's gift to mankind. Through speech a human being conveys his thoughts, sentiments and feeling to others. Freedom of speech and expression is thus a natural right, which a human being acquires on birth. It is, therefore, a basic right. "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" proclaims the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (1948). The people of India declared in the Preamble of the Constitution, which they gave unto themselves their resolve to secure to all the citizens liberty of thought and expression. This resolve is reflected in Article 19(1)(a) which is one of the Articles found in Part III of the Constitution, which enumerates the Fundamental Rights.
Man as rational being desires to do many things, but in a civil society his desires have to be controlled, regulated and reconciled with the exercise of similar desires by other individuals. The guarantee of each of the above right is, therefore, restricted by the Constitution in the larger interest of the community. The right to freedom of speech and expression is subject to limitations imposed under Article 19(2).
Public order as a ground of imposing restrictions was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. Public order is something more than ordinary maintenance of law and order. Public order in the present context is synonymous with public peace, safety and tranquility.
Meaning And Scope
Article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution says that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of Speech and expression means the right to express one's own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It thus includes the expression of one's idea through any communicable medium or visible representation, such as gesture, signs, and the like. This expression connotes also publication and thus the freedom of press is included in this category. Free propagation of ideas is the necessary objective and this may be done on the platform or through the press. This propagation of ideas is secured by freedom of circulation. Liberty of circulation is essential to that freedom as the liberty of publication. Indeed, without circulation the publication would be of little value. The freedom of speech and expression includes liberty to propagate not one's views only. It also includes the right to propagate or publish the views of other people; otherwise this freedom would not include the freedom of press.
Freedom of expression has four broad special purposes to serve:
1) It helps an individual to attain self-fulfillment.
2) It assists in the discovery of truth.
3) It strengthens the capacity of an individual in participating in decision-making.
4) It provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.
5) All members of society would be able to form their own beliefs and communicate them freely to others.
In sum, the fundamental principle involved here is the people's right to know. Freedom of speech and expression should, therefore, receive generous support from all those who believe in the participation of people in the administration. It is on account of this special interest which society has in the freedom of speech and expression that the approach of the Government should be more cautious while levying taxes on matters of concerning newspaper industry than while levying taxes on other matters.
Explaining the scope of freedom of speech and expression Supreme Court has said that the words "freedom of speech and expression" must be broadly constructed to include the freedom to circulate one's views by words of mouth or in writing or through audiovisual instrumentalities. It therefore includes the right to propagate one's views through the print media or through any other communication channel e.g. the radio and the television. Every citizen of this country therefore has the right to air his or their views through the printing and or the electronic media subject of course to permissible restrictions imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
Freedom to air one's view is the lifeline of any democratic institution and any attempt to stifle, suffocate or gag this right would sound a death knell to democracy and would help usher in autocracy or dictatorship. The modern communication mediums advance public interest by informing the public of the events and development that have taken place and thereby educating the voters, a role considered significant for the vibrant functioning of a democracy. Therefore, in any setup more so in a democratic setup like ours, dissemination of news and views for popular consumption is a must and any attempt to deny the same must be frowned upon unless it falls within the mischief of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
The various communication channels are great purveyors of news and views and make considerable impact on the minds of readers and viewers and our known to mould public opinion on vitals issues of national importance. The freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of circulation and propagation of ideas and therefore the right extends to the citizen to use the media to answer the criticism leveled against the views propagated by him. Every free citizen has undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases. This freedom must, however, be exercised with circumspection and care must be taken not to trench on the rights of other citizens or to jeopardise public interest.
New Dimensions Of Freedom Of Speech And Expression
Government has no monopoly on electronic media: The Supreme Court widened the scope and extent of the right to freedom of speech and expression and held that the government has no monopoly on electronic media and a citizen has under Art. 19(1)(a) a right to telecast and broadcast to the viewers/listeners through electronic media television and radio any important event. The government can impose restrictions on such a right only on grounds specified in clause (2) of Art. 19 and not on any other ground. A citizen has fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication and as such have an access to telecasting for the purpose.
Commercial Advertisements: The court held that commercial speech (advertisement) is a part of the freedom of speech and expression. The court however made it clear that the government could regulate the commercial advertisements, which are deceptive, unfair, misleading and untruthful. Examined from another angle the Court said that the public at large has a right to receive the "Commercial Speech". Art. 19(1)(a) of the constitution not only guaranteed freedom of speech and expression, it also protects the right of an individual to listen, read, and receive the said speech.
Telephone Tapping: Invasion on right to privacy : Telephone tapping violates Art. 19(1)(a) unless it comes within grounds of restriction under Art. 19(2). Under the guidelines laid down by the Court, the Home Secretary of the center and state governments can only issue an order for telephone tapping. The order is subject to review by a higher power review committee and the period for telephone tapping cannot exceed two months unless approved by the review authority.
Freedom Of Press
The fundamental right of the freedom of press implicit in the right the freedom of speech and expression, is essential for the political liberty and proper functioning of democracy. The Indian Press Commission says that "Democracy can thrive not only under the vigilant eye of legislature, but also under the care and guidance of public opinion and the press is par excellence, the vehicle through which opinion can become articulate." Unlike the American Constitution, Art. 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution does not expressly mention the liberty of the press but it has been held that liberty of the press is included in the freedom of speech and expression. The editor of a press for the manager is merely exercising the right of the expression, and therefore, no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the press. Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. It is the primary duty of the courts to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws or administrative actions, which interfere with it contrary to the constitutional mandate.
Right to Information
The right to know, 'receive and impart information has been recognized within the right to freedom of speech and expression. A citizen has a fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving information and as such to have an access to telecasting for the purpose. The right to know has, however, not yet extended to the extent of invalidating Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 which prohibits disclosure of certain official documents. One can conclude that 'right to information is nothing but one small limb of right of speech and expression.
Grounds Of Restrictions
Clause (2) of Article 19 contains the grounds on which restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression can be imposed :-
1) Security of State: Under Article 19(2) reasonable restrictions can be imposed on fredom of speech and expression in the interest of security of State. The term "security of state" refers only to serious and aggravated forms of public order e.g. rebellion, waging war against the State, insurrection and not ordinary breaches of public order and public safety, e.g. unlawful assembly, riot, affray. Thus speeches or expression on the part of an individual, which incite to or encourage the commission of violent crimes, such as, murder are matters, which would undermine the security of State.
2) Friendly relations with foreign states: This ground was added by the constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. The object behind the provision is to prohibit unrestrained malicious propaganda against a foreign friendly state, which may jeopardise the maintainance of good relations between India, and that state. No similar provision is present in any other Constitution of the world. In India, the Foreign Relations Act, (XII of 1932) provides punishment for libel by Indian citizens against foreign dignitaries. Interest of friendly relations with foreign States, would not justify the suppression of fair criticism of foreign policy of the Government.
It is to be noted that member of the commonwealth including Pakistan is not a "foreign state" for the purposes of this Constitution. The result is that freedom of speech and expression cannot be restricted on the ground that the matter is adverse to Pakistan.
3) Public Order: This ground was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act. 'Public order' is an expression of wide connotation and signifies "that state of tranquility which prevails among the members of political society as a result of internal regulations enforced by the Government which they have established."
Public order is something more than ordinary maintenance of law and order. 'Public order' is synonymous with public peace, safety and tranquility. The test for determining whether an act affects law and order or public order is to see whether the act leads to the disturbances of the current of life of the community so as to amount to a disturbance of the public order or whether it affects merely an individual being the tranquility of the society undisturbed.
Anything that disturbs public tranquility or public peace disturbs public order. Thus communal disturbances and strikes promoted with the sole object of acausing unrest among workmen are offences against public order. Public order thus implies absence of violence and an orderly state of affairs in which citizens can peacefully pursue their normal avocation of life. Public order also includes public safety. Thus creating internal disorder or rebellion would affect public order and public safety. But mere criticism of government does not necessarily disturb public order. In its external aspect 'public safety' means protection of the country from foreign aggression. Under public order the State would be entitled to prevent propaganda for a state of war with India.
The words 'in the interest of public order' includes not only such utterances as are directly intended to lead to disorder but also those that have the tendency to lead to disorder. Thus a law punishing utterances made with the deliberate intention to hurt the religious feelings of any class of persons is valid because it imposes a restriction on the right of free speech in the interest of public order since such speech or writing has the tendency to create public disorder even if in some case those activities may not actually lead to a breach of peace. But there must be reasonable and proper nexus or relationship between the restrictions and the achievements of public order.
4) Decency or morality: The words 'morality or decency' are words of wide meaning. Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code provide instances of restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of decency or morality. These sections prohibit the sale or distribution or exhibition of obscene words, etc. in public places. No fix standard is laid down till now as to what is moral and indecent. The standard of morality varies from time to time and from place to place.
5) Contempt of Court: Restriction on the freedom of speech and expression can be imposed if it exceeds the reasonable and fair limit and amounts to contempt of court. According to the Section 2 'Contempt of court' may be either 'civil contempt' or 'criminal contempt.'
6) Defamation: A statement, which injures a man's reputation, amounts to defamation. Defamation consists in exposing a man to hatred, ridicule, or contempt. The civil law in relating to defamation is still uncodified in India and subject to certain exceptions.
7) Incitement to an offence: This ground was also added by the constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. Obviously, freedom of speech and expression cannot confer a right to incite people to commit offence. The word 'offence' is defined as any act or omission made punishable by law for the time being in force.
8) Sedition: As understood by English law, sedition embraces all those practices whether by words, or writing which are calculated to disturb the tranquility of the State and lead ignorant person to subvert the government. It should be noted that the sedition is not mentioned in clause (2) of Art. 19 as one of the grounds on which restrictions on freedom of speech and expression may be imposed.
From this article it can be easily concluded that right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental right. It includes circulating one's views by words or in writing or through audiovisual instrumentalities, through advertisements and through any other communication channel. It also comprises of right to information, freedom of press etc. Thus this fundamental right has a vast scope.
From the above case law analysis it is evident that the Court has always placed a broad interpretation on the value and content of Article 19(1)(a), making it subjective only to the restrictions permissible under Article 19(2). Efforts by intolerant authorities to curb or suffocate this freedom have always been firmly repelled, more so when public authorities have betrayed autocratic tendencies.
It can also be comprehended that public order holds a lot of significance as a ground of restriction on this fundamental right. But there should be reasonable and proper nexus or relationship between the restriction and achievement of public order. The words 'in the interest of public order' include not only utterances as are directly intended to lead to disorder but also those that have the tendency to lead to disorder.