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Respecting the Freedom of Speech

As according to Vincent Blasi, the noted law scholar, the most important role of free speech is to “check” government abuses and reveal to the public information that government wants to keep secret from them. If we follow this theory – which is a specific application of the democracy-centred theory of free speech – the press and all form of media including the social networking sites become the most important organs of a system of free expression. In addition to the checking value of free speech, there is another consideration that is now acknowledged by Courts in most jurisdictions, including our Supreme Court. When we speak about the “right” to free speech, we do not just mean – as might seem at first glance – the right of speakers to speak unhindered. We also mean the rights of listeners and hearers to receive information. A classic example is the Indian Supreme Court’s opinion in LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah, which used Article 19(1)(a) to vest a right-of-reply in a person who had been criticised in a newspaper editorial, on the ground of providing a balanced account to readers. Furthermore, instruments like the ICCPR and the ECHR make this clear in the text of the free speech right as well. For instance, Article 19 of the ICCPR states that ”everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” If free speech is about the right to receive information, and about the public good of a society in which information circulates freely and widely, then the vehicles of information occupy a central position in any theory or doctrine about the scope of the constitutional right. Every law makers, bureaucrats or the guardian of the law should understand that the press newly invented social media like the facebook, twitter etc. is perhaps the most important of those vehicles. Establishing the crucial role of the free press in free speech theory is important to understand a crucial issue that has largely gone unaddressed in Indian constitutional and statutory law: that of sourceprotection laws for journalists. A source-protection law exempts journalists from having to compulsorily reveal their sources when ordered to do so by government. The Court too have its own limitation of extracting the source. This write up is being addressed to our so call Police officers, intelligent agency and others in the government. There is no logical meaning on why a journalist which is serving the society by publishing news which the government will never able to do so has been often harassed. Last year the NIA called on editors of some few media houses and forced them to produce all related documents sent by a particular outfit. This year intimidation looms large with government machineries targeting those whoever criticizing the act of the government. Kishorechandra’s case is perhaps one among them but the way that the government is handling the matter is some kind of example on how the free speech is under threat in the present day. Well, the idea of intimidation perhaps may be considered as a tool to protect the ruling regime from being attack, but as people across the globed has easy access with those living in any part of the globe with the advancement in communication technology, the intimidation theory will not work. People know whether it is good or bad that the government is doing. An act without taking a look before lifting will be no different from digging the own graveyard. Let’s give freedom of speech a chance.

William Gurumayum

William Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since 2013. An avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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