Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Petition in SC seeks Guidelines for Electronic Media


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 19(2)

Mains level : Free speech related issues

The Supreme Court has decided to examine a petition seeking the framing of guidelines outlining the broad regulatory paradigm within which the right to free speech of broadcasters and electronic media can be judicially regulated.

What is the petition about?

  • The petition wants the court to consider substantial questions of law, including whether the electronic media enjoys greater freedom than ordinary citizens and whether they could only be subject to self-regulation.
  • It has questioned whether free speech entails misinformation, fake news, hate speech, propaganda, paid news, communal and derogatory reportage, incitement, etc.
  • It has asked whether regulation will amount to the curtailment of the Press if done within the parameters specified under “reasonable restrictions” of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
  • The plea said the right to life and dignity envisaged the right of citizens to “free, fair and proportionate media reporting”.

What is Article 19(2)?

  • This article authorizes the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression “in the interests of… public order.”
  • To understand the Supreme Court’s public order jurisprudence, it is important to break down the sub-clause into its component parts and focus upon their separate meanings.
  • Specifically, three terms are important: “reasonable restrictions”, “in the interests of”, and “public order”.
  • Clause (2) enables the legislature to impose certain restrictions on free speech under the following heads:
  1. Security of the State
  2. Friendly relations with foreign states
  3. Public order
  4. Decency and morality
  5. Contempt of court
  6. Defamation
  7. Incitement to an offense and
  8. Sovereignty and integrity of India
  • Reasonable restrictions on these grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action.

The task before the court

  • The principal issue before the court is to bring about a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the expression of the media and various other rights.
  • These include the competing right to information of the citizenry, the right to reputation and dignity as well as the interest of preserving peace and harmony in the nation.

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