| 20 Jul 2024
Media should strike balance between freedom of speech and reasonable restrictions under Constitution: Arun Jaitley

NEW DELHI: Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley, today, cautioned the media to strike a fine balance between freedom of speech and expression, and the reasonable restrictions so as to maintain public order and integrity and sovereignty of India.

He said free speech is an aid to good governance in view of the changes taking place in the media landscape and the scope and content of issues related to Right to freedom of Speech and Expression.

The overall scenario was also influenced by technological tools that brought about a change in the form, style and method of dissemination. These developments also impacted the definition of News, which today was increasingly being influenced by the camera and channel driven mode.

Jaitley made these remarks while delivering the Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture 2015 on ‘Is it possible to impose reasonable restriction on Freedom of Speech & Expression given today’s media landscape’ organised by All India Radio (AIR) on behalf of Prasar Bharti in New Delhi.

The Minister referred to the evolution of media and the right to freedom of speech and expression. Citing global examples, Jaitley brought out the finer aspects of the freedom of speech vis-à-vis privacy; need to protect the source of information in public interest and media restraint with regard to matters that were sub-judice. He said that these issues had generated discussions amongst academicians, media fraternity and other concerned stakeholders.

The Minister lauded the judiciary for its role in expanding the scope of Right to freedom of Speech and Expression over the years. Various judicial pronouncements had underlined the spirit of the idea behind the Right to freedom of Speech and Expression under the Constitution and correlated contemporary developments, issues and changes in the media space.

Judicial pronouncements subsequently in specific cases focused on issues pertaining to the idea of reasonableness related to restrictions under the Article 19 (2) of the Constitution in the interest of sovereignty, security and public order. Nonetheless due to the pluralistic character of the media space, it was important to exercise caution taking into account public order and sensibilities. He said that these restrictions could only be imposed by law and were specific rather than general so as to prevent misuse.

Regarding the media landscape, Jaitley said satellite television had brought about a sea change in the presentation of news. In the current scenario, the recipient of information had the right to information and knowledge which was also being considered part of the debate under Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.

The dissemination process in the social media space had also impacted the information flow and contributed to the public debate and setting of agendas in the policy framework. Social media had led to the empowerment of citizens by giving them a voice. Decision makers were increasingly using social media to gauge public sentiments on government policies making public reactions, among other things, the new agenda setters for governance.

Jaitley touched upon the global practices being followed in the context of social media restrictions. He referred to the ‘right to be forgotten’ incorporated by the European Court of Human Rights, which empowered the state authority to remove the reference of the aggrieved person from internet citing citizen’s right to privacy. He also spoke about the jurisdictional principles with respect to reasonable restrictions on Freedom of Speech and Expression in the light of changes and issues that had been raised in this context.

These lectures started in 1955 and the first Memorial lecture was delivered by Sri C. Rajagopalachari. In this series, the speakers in previous years included Dr. Zakir Hussain, (Late) Morarji Desai, and (Late) Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.