Laws curbing freedom of press, need to be reviewed

 In the wake of the Supreme Court (SC) verdict on Friday upholding a colonial and pre-Constitutional law criminalising defamation, former Media Advisor to three Prime Ministers and former Director of Press Information Bureau, S Narendra observed that any attempt to curtail the freedom of media through law would have a deep impact on democracy.

Interacting with media persons on criminalisation of defamation here on Saturday, Narendra said that the law was being used as a tool by the governments and corporate giants to control the media. “With all political parties supporting criminalisation of defamation, the watchdog function of the fourth estate is in doldrums,” he added.

“The strength of media might look appealing to people living abroad as it is home to 400 news channels and 5,000 newspapers, but the harsh reality is they aren’t aware of media issues. Media doesn’t enjoy real freedom,” Narendra said.

He added that unofficial censorship on media, both by the Union and state governments, has increased as they want to control the media. “While the Centre is targeting influential media organisations, state governments are trying scuttle regional media using laws.”

Narendra observed that PCI is not playing an effective role in the interest of the media. “While the plea from a few political personalities and media associations challenging the Constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code providing for criminal defamation dismissed, PCI should go before SC and argue the case. Any law affecting the freedom of press needs to be,” he added.

Backing SC’s judgment on the criminalisation of defamation, senior legal expert CKN Raja said, “Freedom of speech comes with reasonable restrictions which allows every individual to enjoy his right to live with dignity and reputation, and thus, no one should have right to defame it, including media,” he said.

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