February 16, 2017

Freedom for speech and expression is one of the hot topic of debate today, especially in India. Cause of action behind such debate is that, the various State Governments as well as the Central Government is recently imposing lots of restrictions on the use of social media or arresting people on the ground of misusing social media.

In this circumstances, let’s try to understand the concept of freedom of speech and expression in the Indian context.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression subject to the reasonable restrictions imposed under the sub-clause 2 of the Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

As observed by the Privy Council in Channing Arnold v. King Emperor [AIR 1914 PC 116, 117], there was no statutory provisions in the pre-independent India to protect or guarantee the freedom of press. Though the Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees the freedom of speech and expression, it doesn’t specifically mention the freedom of press.

Honourable Supreme Court in Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras [AIR 1950 SC 124], held that, the freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.

However, in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [AIR 1978 SC 597], it was held by the Honourable Apex Court that the freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also.

Freedom of speech and expression and Social Media

As observed by the apex court in Indian Express v. Union of India [(1985) 1 SCC 641], the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. Three essential elements of the freedom of press are; freedom of access to all sources of information, freedom of publication, and freedom of circulation. All these are applicable to social media as well.

Thus, in the present scenario we can consider social media also as a kind of press. Hence, we may interpret the freedom of press along with the concept of freedom of speech and expression in Social Media.

Social media has become a vital tool for communication in the modern world, where most of us are having smartphones in our pocket. Social media plays a very vital role in exchange of information very instantly and to connect with people.

Freedom of speech and expression are considered as a fundamental right in whatever medium it is exercised. The same is recognized under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Further, in the light of the growing importance of the social media like facebook, instagram, whatsapp, twitter, Linkedin etc. as a medium of exercising the freedom of speech and expression, access to social media has also been recognized as a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) as well as Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights.


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