Freedom of Expression & Indian Constitution

Expression is a matter of liberty and right. The liberty of thought and right to know are the sources of expression. Free Speech is live wire of the democracy. Freedom of expression is integral to the expansion and fulfillment of individual personality. Freedom of expression is more essential in a democratic setup of State where people are the Sovereign rulers. Iver Jennings said, without freedom of speech, the appeal to reason which is the basis of democracy cannot be made. Freedom of Speech and Expression is defined under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India which states that all the citizens of India have a right to freedom of speech and expression. The philosophy behind this Article lies in the Preamble of the Constitution of India- ‘where a solemn resolve is made to secure to its entire citizen, their liberty of thought and expression’. The exercise of this right is, however, subjected to reasonable restrictions for some purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. The following are the essential elements of the freedom of Speech and Expression: This right is solely available to a citizen of India and not to persons belonging to other nations i.e. foreign nationals; the freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions about any kind of issue and it can be done through any kind of medium, such as by words of mouth, by writing, by printing, through picturisation or through a movie; this right is not absolute as it allows the Government of India to frame laws which can impose reasonable restrictions in the cases which are involved with the sovereignty and integrity of India or the security of the state, or friendly relations with foreign nations, even public order, decency and morality and contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence ;such a restriction on the freedom of speech of any citizen may be imposed as much by an action of the State as by its inaction. Thus, if failure is found on the part of the State to guarantee to all its citizens the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression would also constitute a violation of Article 19(1)(a).

In a democracy like India, the concept of freedom of speech & expression opens up channels of free discussion of issues. Freedom of speech plays a very important role in the formation and the showcasing of the public opinion on social, economic & political matters throughout the country. It ensures within its scope, the freedom related to propagation and interchangement of ideas, dissemination of information which would, later on, help the formation of one’s opinion along with their viewpoint on certain issues and give rise to debates on matters which involve the public. So long as the expression is confined to nationalism, patriotism & love for our nation, the use of National flag by the way of expression of those sentiments would be a Fundamental Right. The independent judiciary of India has held and stated it’s an opinion that the right to receive any information is another part of the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to communicate and receive any kind of information without any sort of interference is a crucial aspect of this right. This is because a person cannot form an informed opinion or make an informed choice and effectively participate socially, politically or culturally without receipt of adequate information.

A print medium is a powerful tool for broadcasting any kind of information to any citizen of the nation. Thus, access to printed material is very crucial for the satisfaction of a person’s right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to him under the Constitution. If any failure is found on the part of the State to make legislative provision for enabling access to people having print impairment of material in alternative accessible formats would constitute a deprivation of their right to freedom of speech and expression and such an inaction on the part of the State shall fall in the wrong place of the Constitution. It is an obligation on the part of the State to make sure that sufficient provisions are made in the law which enables people with a print impairment to access printed material in accessible formats. Under the Freedom of Speech and Expression, there is no separate guarantee of freedom of the press as it is already included in the freedom of expression, which is given to all the citizens of the nation. Freedom of the Press is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution of India. However, it is present as a right under the meaning of freedom of speech and expression (not directly expressed though) as laid down under Article 19 of the Constitution. If by democracy it is meant that the Government is of the people of the nation, it is by the people and it is for the people, then it is necessary that every citizen should be entitled to participate actively in the democratic process of the nation. Free debates and open discussions about certain matters are not possible unless there is a free and independent press. The freedom of the press includes one of the pillars of democracy and indeed lies at the foundation of democratic organization. It has been held so by the Supreme Court of India in many decisions that the freedom of the press is a part of the Freedom of Speech and Expression and covered under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the reason for this is that the freedom of the press is nothing but an aspect of freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, it has been rightly explained that although the Press is considered to be a medium for reaching the people’s views to the everyone and yet it has to stick to the limitations which are imposed upon them by the Constitution under Article 19(2).In this case it was established after observing that the term “freedom of press” is not used under Article 19 in its language but it is contained in the form of its essence within Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, and hence, there cannot be any interference with the freedom of press which involves the public interest and security. Therefore, it was concluded that the imposition of censorship of a journal or prohibiting a newspaper from publishing their own views about any issue which involves public interest would amount to a restriction on the press’ liberty.

There are many grounds on which the freedom of speech and expression can be restricted up to some reasonable restrictions by the state. Such restrictions are defined under the clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India which imposes certain restrictions on free speech under the following: Security of the State; Friendly relations with foreign States; Public order; Decency and Morality; Contempt of court; Defamation; Incitement to an offence, andSovereignty and integrity of India. Expressing one’s opinions through speech is one of the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India and in the modern context, the right to freedom of speech and expression is not just limited to expressing one’s own views through words but it also includes the circulation of those views in terms of writing, or through audiovisuals, or through any other way of communication. This right also comprises of the right to freedom of the press, the right to information, etc. Hence it can be concluded that the concept of freedom is very much essential for the proper functioning of a Democratic State. The words “in the interest of public order” and “reasonable restrictions” mentioned under Article 19 of the Constitution of India are used to indicate that the rights provided under this section are not absolute and they can be restricted for the safety of the other people of the nation and to maintain the public order and decency.  

(Writer can be reached to:sjugeshwor7@gmail.com)

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