Context: The article discusses the dangers of digital data search and seizure in the context of recent raids and arrests of journalists from NewsClick by the Delhi police. It argues that the current legal framework is inadequate to protect the fundamental rights of individuals in the age of digital technology. The author suggests that the Supreme Court should intervene to provide clear guidelines for search and seizure of digital data, similar to those laid down in the D.K. Basu case. The author also criticizes the judiciary for its inaction in addressing cases related to digital privacy, such as the Pegasus spyware case. The author concludes by calling for judicial courage to uphold the constitutional framework of India in the face of digital authoritarianism.
This article has brought into limelight the issue of press freedom and media independence in India.
In 2023, India’s ranking slipped from 150 in 2022 to 161, out of 180 countries, in terms of press freedom according to the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, with the organisation stating that the situation for journalists was “very serious” in the country. The safety of journalists is a grave concern in the Indian media landscape. Various independent international bodies position India as a dangerous country for journalists.
Relation between Press freedom and democracy
- Press freedom and democracy are intertwined and reinforce each other; press freedom empowers citizens, ensures accountability, promotes diverse voices, and serves as a democratic check.
- A free press disseminates vital information, acts as a watchdog, fosters diversity of viewpoints, and maintains checks and balances in a democracy.
- Transparency, individual rights protection, and facilitating peaceful transitions of power are key roles played by press freedom.
- Additionally, press freedom enhances a nation’s international reputation, and threats to it can undermine democracy and citizen accountability.
The condition of press freedom in India is dependent on factors such as the lack of proactive measures from the government, the silence of the civil society, weak legal framework, corporatization of media, etc.
Issues with press freedom in India include:
- Legal and Governmental Restrictions: India has laws that impose restrictions on press freedom, such as defamation laws (Section 499 IPC) and sedition charges (Section 124A IPC), which can be used to suppress critical journalism. The government can also exert indirect pressure on media organizations through regulatory bodies.
- Violence Against Journalists (refer graph) in form of physical attacks, threats, and intimidation, particularly when reporting on sensitive issues or criticizing political figures. This climate of violence leads to self-censorship.
- According to UNESCO 117 journalists killed in 2020-2021, 78%, or 91 journalists, were killed while away from their offices.
- Censorship and Self-Censorship: Some media outlets in India practice self-censorship due to fear of reprisals, leading to a lack of robust reporting on certain issues. Additionally, the government has been known to impose censorship, ban news outlets, and restrict access to information, especially in conflict areas.
- Freedom House’s Freedom on the net 2022 report gives India a Freedom on the Net status of “Partly Free” with a rating of 51 (0-100, lower is better), increased from 41 in 2017.
- In April 2023, new regulations were enacted that will require online intermediaries to censor and remove content that is deemed to be false or misleading by a body appointed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
- Ownership Concentration: Many media organizations in India are owned by powerful business conglomerates or political figures, leading to concerns about editorial independence and bias in reporting.
- The Reliance industries has controlling stakes in majority media channels.
- Many prominent political leaders from both Congress and BJP run media channels.
- Lack of Protection for Whistle-blowers: India lacks comprehensive protection for whistle-blowers, making it risky for insiders to expose corruption or wrongdoing in government or corporate sectors.
These issues collectively contribute to a complex environment for press freedom in India, where journalists often work under challenging conditions to fulfill their vital role as watchdogs and informants in a democratic society.