Article 19 (1) 1 of the Constitution, guarantees certain fundamental rights, subject to the power of the State to impose restrictions on the exercise of those rights. The Article was thus intended to protect these rights against State action other than in the legitimate exercise of its power to regulate private rights in the public interest.
I. Protection of Journalists
The fourth pillar of democracy, journalism, is the bedrock of good governance and democratic accountability. A journalist is defined by the Indian Parliament as someone who works for a newspaper as an editor, writer, reporter, correspondent, photographer, or proofreader (Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1955). It is critical to ensure the safety of journalists to facilitate the transmission of information and news on subjects of public concern.
In India, there is no particular law that governs the profession and practice of journalism. Every citizen in India has the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. The legitimacy and right to freedom of the press are derived from the same article, according to the Press Council of India (PCI).
The second clause of Article 19 imposes additional restrictions, which also apply to journalists, and thus the freedom granted by law can be revoked if the speech infringes on India's sovereignty and integrity, the state's security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, incitement to an offence, or defamation.
Defamation has been one of the most difficult obstacles for practicing journalists in the country. Printing defamatory statements are punishable by up to two years in prison, a fine, or both under section 501 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Similarly, any written or visual attempt to arouse hatred, contempt, or disaffection in a community or towards the government is punishable by life imprisonment under Section 124Aof the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The Indian media is under a lot of strain, and it's not just because of the Covid-19 outbreak. According to research by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, between March 25 and May 31, 55 journalists were attacked, largely by state governments and their supporters, for uncovering information regarding the official handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the study, Journalists have been arrested, physically assaulted, and had FIRs filed against them. Two FIRs against journalist Vinod Duahave been filed, one in Delhi and the other in Himachal Pradesh, both by BJP functionaries and once again bring to the spotlight the British-era terror tool known as sedition and defamation laws, which are frequently misused to stifle rightful dissent and journalism.
The case of Vinod Dua is a sobering reminder of how the police-petition system works. The police in Himachal Pradesh did nothing for 35 days after the FIR was filed. However, as soon as Duareceived relief from the high court in a similar case filed against him in Delhi, the Himachal Pradesh police jumped into action and arrived at his home within hours, giving him less than 48 hours to appear for questioning.
The court ruled that prosecuting Dua for the alleged offences would be a violation of his right to freedom of speech and expression. And it further stated that under the judgment, every journalist will be protected.
MAHARASHTRA MEDIA PERSON ACT
The Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act was the first state-level law to protect journalists. It was passed by the parliament in 2017 and obtained President's approval in 2019. (Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions Act 2017). The Act intends to curb the violence against journalists and media organizations in Maharashtra, as well as any harm to their property.
Despite being a step in the right direction, this Act excludes bloggers, freelancers, and social media journalists from its coverage because they are not affiliated with any media organization. During the lockdown in Maharashtra, Shantha (2020) of The Wire noted 15 instances where journalists were barred from reporting. The Maharashtra Media Persons Act was not used in any of the 15 cases.
CHHATTISGARH PROTECTION FOR JOURNALISTS BILL
A bill titled "Chhattisgarh State Commission for Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders" has been introduced by the People's Union for Civil Liberties in Chhattisgarh (Media Vigil 2016). The execution of this Bill will result in the formation of an autonomous agency that will provide legal and financial help to persons who have difficulties exercising their right to free speech. This is the first bill in India to get support from politicians who campaigned for journalist safety and won elections on the issue (Majumder 2019). Journalists have applauded this proposal since it uses a broad definition in which freelancers and bloggers are included.
II. Protection of Doctors
The Protection Of Medicare Service Persons And Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention Of Violence And Damage To Property) Act, also known as the Medical Protection Act, has been passed by at least 19 states, including West Bengal, the epicenter of the demonstrations (MPA). Attacks on physicians and property damage are prohibited by the Act, which applies to both institutionalized and independent practitioners. Offenders might face a three-year prison sentence and a Rs 50,000 fine.
Doctors have long demanded a central law, rather than a state-by-state MPA, as well as proper protection on hospital grounds. Doctors also fear that random attacks on doctors would discourage individuals from becoming doctors.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, was approved by President Ram NathKovind to protect healthcare practitioners from violence amid health crises such as the covid-19 epidemic presently destroying the world. According to the amendment, anyone who commits or aids in the commission of acts of violence faces a sentence of three months to five years in prison and a fine of Rs 50,000 to 2 lakh. If the assaults cause serious injury, they may face a sentence of six months to seven years in prison and a fine of one lakh to five lakh rupees. The offender will also be responsible for compensating the victim as well as twice the fair market value for property damage.
The ordinance applies to public and clinical healthcare service providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedical workers, community health workers, and those who are authorized to adopt outbreak preventive measures under the Epidemic Diseases Act.
III. Protection of Advocates
Advocates are recognized as the defenders of the legal system and are considered an important part of the judicial system all over the country. They are the voices that have a significant impact on the judiciary and society as a whole. Nonetheless, there are several cases of physical assault against advocates occurring across the country.
Mr. Rajiv Dhawan, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, described how he was beaten and harassed while representing the appellants in the Ayodhya Babri Masjid case.
While the majority of such acts of violence occur as a result of the cases that lawyers take on, there are no specific safety nets protecting lawyers from these horrible acts. As a result, lawyers are hesitant to take on cases that could jeopardize their life, or cases involving parties such as terrorists, rapists, and others who face uncontrollable societal rage.
A plea was filed stating that currently there is no Advocate Protection Act for protection of advocates in India and a demand for a law for their protection was made through a countrywide strike by the Advocates.
Democracy is primarily based on free debate and open discussion, as this is the only way for the government to be held accountable in a democratic environment. If democracy implies government of the people, by the people, it is self-evident that every citizen must have the right to participate in the democratic process, and that free and open discussion of public issues is necessary to enable him to wisely use his right to vote.
While crystallizing the relationship between a democratic society and freedom of speech, the Hon'ble Supreme Court opined that in a democratic environment, it is the people's right to be kept informed about current political, social, economic, and cultural life, as well as the important issues of the day, to consider and form a broad opinion about the same.
The Supreme Court held in the case of S. Khusboo v. Kanniamal & Anr., that morality and criminality do not coexist, and that free flow of ideas in a society makes citizens well informed, which leads to good governance.
It is critical for a democracy's proper functioning that citizens engage in constructive criticism or debates, pointing out flaws in the government's policies. Although the expressions employed in such ideas may be harsh and disagreeable to some, this does not make the actions seditious. Only in cases where the objective is to disrupt public order or overthrow the government by violence and criminal means should then Section 124A be used. Seditiousness cannot be applied to every irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression. A person should not be prosecuted for merely voicing an opinion that is contrary to the current government's policies.
Certain issues need to be addressed which are-
a) Given that 124A was instituted by the British to oppress Indians, how far is it justified today, and shouldn't it be redefined in a country like India, which is the world's greatest democracy?
b) To what extent can citizens exercise their freedom to speech, and at what point does this freedom to speech become hate speech?
c) What precautions could be taken to prevent the section from being abused?
d) How do you strike a compromise between the IPC's s.124A and the right to freedom of expression?