Submitted By: Vinay Tyagi, IMS Noida
Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that, “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. The philosophy behind this Article lies in the Preamble of the Constitution, where a solemn resolve is made to secure to all its citizen, liberty of thought and expression. The exercise of this right is, however, subject to “reasonable restrictions” for certain purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
In the Preamble to the Constitution of India, the people of India declared their solemn resolve to secure to all its citizen liberty of thought and expression. The Constitution affirms the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to voice one’s opinion, the right to seek information and ideas, the right to receive information and the right to impart information. The Indian State is under an obligation to create conditions in which all the citizens can effectively and efficiently enjoy the aforesaid rights.
Freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “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, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. The version of Article 19 in the ICCPR later amends this by stating that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.
Some landmark Supreme Courts Judgments regarding the freedom of speech and expression
Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, (1950): Patanjali Sastri, J., observed Freedom of speech and of the press laid at the foundation of all democratic organization, for without free political discussion no public education, essestials for the proper functioning of the process of popular government is possible.
However Article 19(2) of the Constitution provides that this right is not absolute and ‘reasonable restrictions’ may be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. The right to freedom of expression includes the right to express ones views and opinions on any issue and through any medium whether it be in writing or by word of mouth.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India ,(1978): freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and its carries with it right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only India but abroad also.
Prabha Dutt v, Union Of India (1982): Supreme Court directed the Superitendent of the Tihar Jail allow the representative of a few newspapers to interview Ranga and Billa, the death sentence convicts, as they wanted to be interviewed.
In India under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. In the Preamble to the Constitution of India the people of India declared their solemn resolve to secure to all its citizens liberty of thought and expression. The Supreme Court of India held that the freedom of speech and expression includes freedom to propagate ideas which is ensured by freedom of circulation of a publication, as publication is of little value without circulation.
Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India provides that this right is not absolute and ‘reasonable restrictions’ may be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. The right to freedom of speech would include both artistic and commercial speech which is required to be protected. Freedom of speech and expression would include artistic speech as it includes the right to paint, sign, dance, write poetry, literature and is covered by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution because the common basic characteristic of all these activities is freedom of speech and expression.
Importance of Freedom of Speech and Expression
In a democracy, freedom of speech & expression opens up channels of free discussion of issues. Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on social, economic & political matters. It embraces within its scope the freedom of propagation and interchange of ideas, dissemination of information which would help the formation of one’s opinion & viewpoint & debates on matters of public concern. So long as the expression is confined to nationalism, patriotism & love for the motherland, the use of National flag by the way of expression of those sentiments would be a Fundamental Right.
This aspect of the right to freedom of speech and expression extending the concept of citizenship to include socio-political participation of a person is critical in the process of determining the scope of right to life of a citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is important to note that the scope of the “freedom of speech and expression” in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution has been expanded to include the right to receive and disseminate information. It includes the right to communicate and circulate information through any medium including print media, audio, television broadcast or electronic media.
In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India,[vii] BHAGWATI J., has emphasized on the significance of the freedom of speech & expression in these words:
Democracy is based essentially on free debate and open discussion, for that is the only corrective of government action in a democratic set up. If democracy means government of the people by the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his rights of making a choice, free & general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential.”
Expression through speech is one of the basic guarantees provided by civil society. However in modern world Right to freedom of speech and expression is not limited to express ones’ view through words but it also includes circulating one’s views in writing or through audiovisual instrumentalities, through advertisements and through any other communication channel. It also comprises of right to information, freedom of press etc. It is a right to express and self realization.
Freedom of speech and expression is the bulwark of democratic government. This freedom is essential for the proper functioning of democratic process and is regarded as the first condition of liberty. It occupies a preferred position in the hierarchy of liberties giving protection to all other liberties. It has been truly said that it is the mother of all other liberties. That liberty include the right to acquire information and disseminate the same. It includes the right to communicate it through available media without interference to as large a population of the country, as well as abroad, as is possible to reach. Right to know is the basis right of the citizens of a free country and Art. 19(1)(a) protects that right. Right to receive information springs from Art 19(1)(a).