“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”
Beginning with these words, the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), highlights the importance of inalienable rights of humans, which form the basis of development of any individual and, in turn, of the society. One such right is the right to freely express ones views, which finds a mention in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution as a fundamental right. One of the most ubiquitous means of facilitating the right to freedom of speech and expression is through the agency of media, which plays an instrumental role in safeguarding the fundamental rights of the individuals. The significance that the media has in today’s time can very well be understood by the following roles that it performs in the society.
Facilitating knowledge and an instrument for expression of opinion.
Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression to every citizen. The right to freedom of speech and expression, in simple words, means that every individual has the right to have an opinion, and such opinion can be freely expressed by any means, be it spoken or written. Media (print or electronic) has played a very important role in ensuring that this right is available to the people of the democracy. It is very often observed that people voice their views and opinions through the medium of newspaper articles, journals, advertisements, social media, among others.
Another facet of this right is the ‘right to receive information.’ The Supreme Court in Secretary, Ministry of I&B, Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal[i], has stated that the right to freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information. Thus, while being a platform where public can put forth their opinions, ideas and beliefs, media also acts as an important instrument for spreading mass awareness about various happenings in the society. The agencies involved in media ensure that all the current events are made known to the general public. With the massive infrastructure and technology, the agencies of media have the ability to reach a large number of people within seconds. And this in turn has helped the media to evolve as an important source of information.
Highlighting human rights violations.
With the increase in human right violations in the recent past, for instance, exploding number of rapes, fake encounters by the police, movement and communication lockdowns etc., the media organisations have essentially increased their coverage and reporting about human rights. They now tend to cover every act which causes violations of rights of people, whether the right is violated by the people or by the government agencies. They put forth all the happenings going around currently, in every nook and corner of the country. Recently, daily updates with regard to the country-wide CAA protests were brought to the public eyes by these media agencies. Details about the protests happening around in every part of the country, be it Maharashtra, Delhi, North-East India and the other places were covered and communicated by the media.
Along with the violations in human rights, it is essential to also get to know the corrective measures taken to amend the violations. Thus, the media also focuses and educates people about the institutional framework which is designed to protect and promote the human rights. Whenever any act of violation comes up, it is extremely essential to follow up on the same. The corrective action should also be conveyed to the public. This coverage of the follow up by the media plays an important role in curbing the occurrence of such violations in the future.
In a workshop organised by National Human Rights Commission (“NHRC”) and National Law School of India University, NLSIU at Bangalore in June 2017 on “Role of media in promotion and protection of Human Rights“, Justice H.L Dattu (Chairperson, NHRC) has stated that the role and importance of media is deeply percolated. It plays an essential part in highlighting the various acts of commission, omission, abetment and negligence, which may also be committed by state and its agencies, which in turn result in violations. He further emphasised on the fact that media has become indispensable in the working of the commission.
With the extensive media coverage, certain incidents of human rights violations are highlighted. This reporting then helps the government agencies to take such matters into consideration. The institutional framework for protection and promotion of human rights is India is vested with the NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions (“SHRCs”), which are empowered to take suo moto cognizance of matters involving gross human rights violations. In the above-mentioned workshop, the Honourable Chairperson has stated that media is a valuable and essential ally in addressing human right violations in the country. He further stated that vernacular and regional media has played a great role in bringing forth the issues from far flung areas of the country.
One recent event where the NHRC had taken suo moto cognizance was in case of death of the four accused in the Telangana rape and murder case in a police encounter in 2019. The basis on which the cognizance was taken was media reports, and NHRC opined that such matters of denial of basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution ought to be investigated. The other instance is the suo moto cognizance taken by the NHRC is the cause of hardship faced by the migrant workers and labourers amidst the lockdown in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Thanks to the media, which pepped up the matter at the national level, so that remedial measures are taken by the authorities. The media reports brought forward the difficulties faced by migrants, denial of basic amenities such as food and water to them, etc.
In this backdrop, it is seen that media has been an important contributor when it comes for bringing to the fore situations of denial of basic human rights to the people.
With time, the functioning of media has become extremely important for facilitating a well-informed and developed society. The extent of impact which media has on people has helped in addressing various pressing issues. It is thus rightly said that media is the watchdog of a democratic system as it keeps the government and its agencies on the right track and helps in protecting and guaranteeing the inalienable rights provided by the Indian Constitution. It is a vehicle that will take us to our destinations of justice, by making sure that there always is a platform where people can freely express their views and voice their sufferings. Moreover, it is and shall continue to be an asset which will be used by the institutional framework also in order to recognize and remedy the human rights violations, whenever and wherever they take place.
However, as every coin has two sides; and, so does the media. It is, at the same time, replete with various drawbacks which will be discussed in our next article.