India is a country caught in turbulent times. Massive protests have been waged all across the country in the past few months which have questioned the role of the government and the right of the people to oppose the reforms suggested by the incumbent government. Voltaire said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". However, in recent times it appears that the role of the government and the judiciary in censoring the voice of the Indian citizen has been questioned.
The Emergency of 1975 is an apt example of the abuse of the government's censorship power to censor the media. For a period of nearly 2 years, up to 1977, the government had imposed strict censorship on what could be published in newspapers. Media houses were raided, publishing houses were put out of business and journalists were threatened with arrests in case they published anything contrary to government views. There were entry restrictions on foreigners. Therefore, even the foreign media received very little information on what was happening in the country during that period. However, the times have changed, especially after the period of liberalization, privatization and globalization that began in India in 1991.
Law and Censorship
As per law, one can say that to censor means "to officially inspect (especially a book or a film) and delete material considered offensive. However, it is generally the government which has the power to decide whether censorship is possible or not.
On one side, the curtailment of the internet in Kashmir for over 150 days has raised an uproar against the government for curbing free speech while, on the other side, the trend of spreading fake news without any regulatory measures to control social media platforms has raised the question of the desirability of granting a completely free hand to the media.
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution gives every citizen of India the right to freedom of expression and opinion without interference. Article 19 allows every citizen to provide and receive information through any media. However, Article 19(2) gives the governments rights to levy reasonable restrictions on Indian citizens in the interest of protecting the sovereignty and morality of the nation.
The government should not suppress an individual's opinion under the garb of censorship. There have been instances where a power struggle between the political parties has resulted in the judiciary being used as the last resort to address such concerns.
Freedom of speech and expression in Media
The law regarding censorship of print media in India is justified based on speech and expression provided as a fundamental right granted under the Constitution. On many occasions, the news publishing houses have been asked to refrain from publishing any anti-government news or news showing fallibilities of the government. This shows that the use of the basic fundamental freedom of speech and expression given under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution is left with the government which regulates the use of rights by the watchdog of democracy according to its own will. This, in turn, raises a doubt in the mind of all the citizens that whether the freedom of speech and expression even exists, or it is just a mockery of the principles of freedom of speech and expression and right to know enshrined under the Constitution.
The way forward
The State cannot restrict the freedom of speech for the oversensitive and those who are intolerant of personal opinions. Neither can the State impose regulations on social media which is a mere platform where personal opinions are posted by users. Liability for such online content should not be attached to citizens who are merely positing their view. Laws should be equipped to take action against those responsible for posting illegal/ objectionable/ hateful content online with a view to spread malice and create non-violence.
It is essential to understand that better laws or more policing alone cannot cope with the phenomena of intolerance that the country is witnessing.