This Article is written by Aakansha Gupta

In 21st century though in a democratic country like India the citizens are provided with the fundamental right of Freedom of speech and expression but it is sadly not practised as prima facie. The journalists specially are facing violent death threats through online mode merely because they are exercising the above mentioned fundamental right and doing their job as a journalists of exploiting wrongful activities of politicians and other people. The article highlight the laws which are adopted by different countries to protect and foster the interests of journalists. This paper also talks about how important journalists are and there power to do good to the society. And it also recognizes that in a developing society such a vital role media plays in bringing out the truth to something wrong. This article emphasizes on the harassment activities that create hindrances freedom of media. This piece of writing also specifies the impact that has left an unforgettable imprint in terms of mental harassment on the journalists because of these online intimidating activites and it also enumerates various Indian as well as foreign landmark cases involving online harrasement against journalists. This paper also states the initiatives taken by different media houses and newsrooms in order to prohibit this kind of harassment to journalists and to provide then a suitable and workable environment where they are free express there thought and feelings on a particular subject.

Introduction

In a democratic country like India it inserts an obligation on the country to provide fundamental rights on the citizens Freedom of Speech and Expression [1]is one of the important right guaranteed under constitution of India. Another, Freedom of Media prevails under the ambit of freedom of expression. Media plays a vital role and is recognized as an integral part of Indian democracy, it also considered as the fourth pillar of the society. It influences people’s opinions and choices towards things. It helps in shaping public minds and democracy. Media plays a vital role in creating awareness concerning problems of national importance with there comprehensive history. Media pretends to be a mirror to the society, it acts as a communicating link between the public and government. It also is one of most powerful verbal weapon to expose the felonies of political partices Without media our country will be a frog in a well. We live in an era where both journalists and the public even in most developed countries like UK and United States are still struggling to reach a consensus on what constitutes to be a good journalism.

The unrestricted use of social media has led to harassment of journalists in online platform by various methods including by disseminating threats and disinformation, stalking, and broadcasting private or personally identifiable information about targeted journalists.Number of cases attacking journalists has risen recently to another level around the world. These include mostly attacks allegedly directed by governments or politicians, as well as by individuals displeased with their own media coverage or generally with the press. It was  reported that a great number have gone through online abuse and harassment and female journalists have also been excessively impacted.

Hindrances in Freedom of Media in India

ONLINE HARASSMENT

The main challenge faced by the press is freedom of expression that arises in India from the restrictions which are imposed by the owners of the newspaper, government, political parties, etc. They may attempt to urge newspapers to compromise their liberty to express thoughts and ideas on different topics.

Without Borders, India is treated as one of the largest media markets in the world for the reason being only a few people have control over the ownership of media. Though the clarity in the media is very necessary, but nowadays the transparency in the internal system is declining day by day which leads to question the credibility of media. Nowadays, most of Indian media houses are owned and controlled by politically associated people.

These days Mexico and India are considered to be one of the deadliest countries for journalists. The Indian Constitution mainly does not accord any specific priviledge for journalists as in order to safeguard their work.

Though through Article 19 [2]of the Constitution of India that gurantees freedom of speech to all the citizens of India with reasonable restrictions The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act[3], is made in order to conceal the inputs of the journalists. The main difficulty faced is that there is a lack of diversity on news coverage like many remote places in South India hardly get required coverage in national media, there are is a lot of territorial restriction that is overpowering the power of media. Numerous advertisements are released by and under the influence of private companies and governments as it constitute an important source of income for the newspaper. Several newspaper agencies are obligated to listen the organizations and denial of advertisments leads to decline in their earnings.

Impact of Harassment on Journalists

There were several cases reported on online harassment on journalists which can be witnessed in the Indian legal history. These landmark cases have brought out the root cause of harassment of journalists and comprehensive attack on media as a whole. Though there are many laws in generic to protect and foster the freedom of speech and expression, this liberty is still not recognized as a official priviledge to journalists. These are the following cases which have been marked in the history to recognize rights of journalists:-

  • Express Newspaper vs. Union of India- [4]The obiter dicta of the case was that the legitimacy of Working Journalist Act, 1955 was questioned. It further highlighted that the press was not resistant from general application of laws or industrial relation laws. The purpose for enabling the act was enhance the working conditions of females in the newspaper industry alongwith imposing appropriate restrictions on Article 19(1)(a).
  • Romesh Thapper vs. State of Madras [5]– Subjec to this case, a law banning entry and circulation of journals in the state were held void. The also decided that there is no dispute in stating that f freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas and that freedom is ensured by freedom of circulation. But it was further held that a law which is a authorized restriction on the ground of “public safety or for the maintenance of public order” falls apart from the scope of authorized restriction under clause(2) and is termed void and unconstitutional.
  • R.Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu [6]– The Supreme Court in this case held that government does not hold any power regarding imposition of any law which restrains publication of defamatory material against its officials. Although, they could perhaps take action against the damages after publication of material but can only do so after proving that the publication was based on false documents.

Other than Indian cases there are many countries in which online harassment to journalists-:

  • In Brazil 2016, the Guardian newspaper reported that a journalist filed a lawsuit requesting Google to reveal who ordered an advertisement that listed his name and his blog under a notation that whatever he is stating is false.In beginning of that year, a newspaper in Brazil published a counterfieted story along with a picture of the journalist’s face, wrongly declaring that he had said that “the retired are useless to society,” provoking a cascade of violent verbal abuse.
  • In Finland 2014, a journalist who investigated Russian internet activities was subjected to online death threats, declaration of her phone number, and attacks on her reputation. The online publisher of an unlawful piece of information against the journalist who was convicted in 2018 under general harassment offenses

Laws Safeguarding Freedom of Press in India

ONLINE HARASSMENT

In a democratic country where equality succeed above everyone, where it is mandatory to provide people with freedom to express their thoughts and feelings at a larger platform with appropriate restrictions. The most compelling mediums of communication that plays a vital role in building a powerful society is considered to be the press. Though freedom of press is not yet defined in the Indian Constitution but is a part of freedom of speech and expressionwhichis defined as Article19(1)(a) of the Costitution.

Dr. BR Ambedkar as Chairman of the Drafting Committee in one of his speeches made it clear that it is needless to mention freedom of press independently as because freedom of press and an individual or a citizen are considered as one entity as their right to expression was concerned in the matter. The fabricators of Indian Constitution recognized freedom of press as an eminent part of freedom of speech and expression as granted under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Several surveys reported that many countries have not adopted any provisions in regard to protection of journalists who further become victims of online harrasmnet. Nonetheless, some individual countries have considerably established specific legislations in particular targetting online harassment against journalists and avoiding online harassment by accommodating online means. As in many countries journalists are facing severely online harassment. Some countries have adopted provisions protecting journalists are-:

  • Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act[7], which was enabled in 2015 in Canada, to prevent cyberbullying and non-consensual distribution of intimate images etc.
  • In Finland, there are many other laws which comprise a number of crimes in particular to online mode, such as violating a person’s online privacy and interference with the peaceful enjoyment of communication etc.

Several media organization have taken initiatives around the world that should be noted-:

  • In 2019,Finland’s media houses have joined forces to set up a “Journalist Support Fund” to restrain harassment. However, the fund is not yet active. Additionally, the Union of Journalists of Finland has issued a guide for active journalists with an advice on what to do if they are a part of a hate campaign. Finnish media representatives have also issued statements for a return to “fact-based” journalism[8].
  • Increase in online attacks on journalists, newsrooms in Spain adopted appropriate practices for managing comments on websites. News organizations with strong and with specific protocols that were adopted by certain newspapers houses to provide procedures for journalists for assessment of online harassment complaints by the newspaper’s social media team, consideration of withdrawal of comments from social media platforms, and referral to legal counsel and human resources for the purpose of filing legal actions. [9]social media presence hide insulting or violent comments, whether addressed to journalists or other readers.

Conclusion

Nowadays, journalism as a profession is considered to be the most dangerous profession in the world. Due to the online harassment activities against journalists, the essence of the job of the journalists is at stake, the freedom to express their thoughts and analysing a particular situation has been curtailed. In contemporary world, the status of the press is the same as an ordinary citizen.[10] Therefore, there is an urgent need of effective, efficient and flexible laws for protecting the interest of journalists.


[1] Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Right, 1948

[2] Contituition of India, 1949

[3] Unlawful Activities (Prevention), 1967

[4] Express Newspaper Pvt Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors. AIR 1987 852, AIR 1985 SCR Supl. (3) 382

[5] Romesh Thapper vs. The State of Madras AIR 1950 124, AIR 1950 SCR 594

[6] R.Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu AIR 1995 264, AIR 1994 SCC(6) 632

[7] Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act C-13, 41st Parliament, 2nd Session of Parliament

[8] Finland: “The Land of the Free Press”, Reporters Without Borders (2019)

[9] OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, International Conference: “Journalists under Attack: A Threat to Media Freedom”, Vienna, Austria (Apr. 12, 2019)

[10] K.Neha, “Protecting Journalists from Online Harrasment”, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS)

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