Freedom of Speech: Nothing is absolute

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”. — John Milton
Vikas Sharma
March 16, 2021

The right to think, seek, speak and express is what makes human, humane. It is through free speech, people can come together, form opinions, strengthen themselves and help uplift or enlighten or democratize the society in a robust manner. And this right is well grained in us from the time immoral, expressed right from evolution to the depth of geopolitical instincts.

Freedom of Speech provides us, whether as an individual or a community, the freedom to articulate opinions and ideas, propagate them without fear of retaliation, censorship or legal sanction. It is a deeply embedded instinct, which is well recognised globally and is a human right under Article19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UDHR, explicitly, describes and maintain this right in major three parts: Holding opinions, Receiving information and Imparting it.

It further extends its presence, by being in all the major conventions, forums and global stages of geopolitical interference.

Indian Context:

In India, this right is not extended separately as our constitutional committee decided to not distinguish between the individual and the press on the basis of liberties or restrictions. They are collectively held under Article 19(1)(a) as ‘Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’.

However, every power that comes with responsibilities, this right comes under reasonable restrictions that are provided for in Article(19)(b).

With regards to Indian content, the Article 19(1)(b), provides that the freedom is not absolute and enables the legislation and judiciary to impose certain restrictions, as and when the liberty or security of the state is compromised.

These restrictions may vary from:

  1. Relations with foreign states
  2. Nation Security, Sovereignty and Integrity of the Nation
  3. Public Order, Decency and Morality
  4. Incitement of an offence due to speech, including defamation, communal violence
  5. Contempt of the court

These restrictions, do not codify or hard imposed but vary in accordance with the legislation, judiciary and enablement by the Press Council of India Act, 1978.

Administration and Nature of Political will on freedom:

These terms, depicting how vague they can be in pretty much situations, vary along with the political influence, order of hierarchy and will to impose restrictions.

India’s first Prime Minister J.L. Nehru, with regards to freedom of expressions, went to the extremes when his own son-in-law was operating National Herald and printing expressions against him. He defended himself, on all the grounds, but did not impose any restrictions on the expressions flowing around. However, several years later, when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, she used the press as a govt machinery to impose propaganda, even stating on AIR, that Indian Media is going to be regulated as a govt body, and no changes are to be made thereof, in her presence or influence.

Thus, the same freedom, when administered by different legislators, provided for different contexts and influenced freedom.

CONCLUSION:

The words, ‘in the interest of public order’, include not only the utterance but even the ones, that have the tendency to lead to disorder, which brings in the will, character and position of the administration, legislation and judiciary to play the nexus role.

India ranks 138th worldwide in press freedom index for 2018, Just saying
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