Media & Freedom | Unit 1 – Media Law & Ethics Class Notes

The concept of media freedom

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience above all liberties – John Milton (1608-74)

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

A free press can ofcourse be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad – Albert Camus

Importance of Media Law and Ethics

It is imperative that practitioners in any field have a sound working knowledge of the legal and ethical considerations that apply to their occupation.

  • Public responsibility: Sound legal and ethical practice enhances the standing of journalism in the broader community when many citizens are calling question the integrity of media professionals and demanding greater accountability on the part of journalists.
  • Self-protection: Legal and ethical transgressions can prove costly and painful for journalists and their families, friends, colleagues and employers. Defamation actions have the potential to leave journalists in a tough spot. Contempt charges can land journalists in jail for indefinite periods.
  • Professionalism: Professional awareness of important issues like media law and ethics can set them apart from the amateurs and the charlatans.

Theories of media liberty and democracy

The goal of a news story
The primary goal of a news story is to inform and communicate pertinent facts, together with enough background information to help the audience understand those facts.

Threats to press freedom within the media

  • The media’s position of independence has become ambiguous as the boundaries between news and comment, advertising and information, journalism and government have blurred.
  • There is no enforceable right of reply, meaning the media can carry just one side of a story

Rights and obligation of the media

Accuracy, fairness & lack of bias
  • Make sure facts (events, names, dates, statistics, places, quotes) are correct
  • Verify facts with multiple sources
  • Use reliable sources for statistics
  • Use facts as the substance of the story
  • Discover and include all necessary facts
  • Strive for balance
  • Provide context for facts
  • Give all relevant sides of the story
  • Leave personal bias out of the story
  • Use neutral language
  • Reliance on observable fact
  • Use of transparent techniques for pursuing truth and verifying facts
  • Yield best obtainable version of the truth
Pre-publication verification
  • The editor should check all the facts
Caution against defamatory writings
  • A news agency should not publish anything insulting against any institution or any individual person
  • Should not write anything, not in public interest
  • No remarks against a dead person unless of public interest
Right to privacy
  • Caution against Identification Privacy of women, names, photography like privacy cases of rape, women safety, sexual assault should be restricted even though it is of public interest
  • No photography of personal grief unless it is in the public interest such as accident, natural calamities
Recording Interview
  • Should not try to record any private conversation without the consent unless it is required to protect the journalism
Prior to Publication
  • Delete offensive language by interview to the press
Avoid suggestive guilt
  • The reporter should not involve any family member of a crime
  • A newspaper should correct the publication and apologise if anything wrong were printed.
Obscenity Test
  • It is vulgar and indecent
  • Pornography should be avoided

Reporting Duties

Before journalists can write about a subject, they must first gather information. They usually conduct several interviews with people involved in or having knowledge of the subject. They may also go to the scene of an event, such as a crime or an accident, to interview witnesses or law enforcement officers and to document what they see. In addition, they often search public records or other databases to find information and statistics to back up their stories. Researching a story is often similar to conducting an investigation, and journalists must sometimes ask difficult questions. They may have to invest a lot of time tracking down information and people relevant to the story.

Working With People

Even though a news article bears a single journalist’s byline, the process requires significant collaboration. How good a journalist’s story often depends on how adept he is at communicating and working with others. For example, journalists take instruction from their editors regarding what angle to approach when writing a story, how long the story should be and whom to interview. They also need strong people and communication skills so they can persuade sources to talk to them. Journalists frequently approach people they don’t know, whether when reporting from the scene or calling to request an interview. If they’re uncomfortable around strangers, they’ll make others uncomfortable as well, making it less likely that people will want to be interviewed.

Ethical Responsibilities

Some aspects of a journalist’s job are not subject to any kind of law but are just as important. Journalists must strive to present an accurate, well-balanced explanation of the stories they cover. For example, they have an obligation to present all sides of an issue and to conduct extensive research and talk to several sources knowledgeable about the subject. If they present only popular opinion, or if they conduct minimal research without fully exploring the subject, they don’t give readers and viewers the information they need to understand the implications of the event or issue. Journalists must also be honest with the people they interview, telling them before talking to them about what the article is about and that they plan to quote them in the piece.

Fundamental rights

The fundamental rights are the natural rights that cannot be taken away by the State. The fundamental rights can be altered only by making an amendment to the Indian Constitution. All the citizens of the country possess the right to directly move the Supreme Court if their fundamental rights are violated, which is by itself a fundamental right.

Part III of the Indian Constitution deals with the fundamental rights (Article  12-35). The following rights are provided under the fundamental rights: Right to equality, Right to freedom, Right against exploitation, Right to freedom of religion, Cultural and educational rights and right to constitutional remedies.

Right to equality

Articles 14-18 deal with the right to equality. These Articles provide equality before law, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, equality of opportunity in matters of public employment, the abolition of untouchability and abolition of titles other than a military or an academic distinction.

Right to freedom – Article 19

  1. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc
    (1) All citizens shall have the right
    (a) to freedom of speech and expression;
    (b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
    (c) to form associations or unions;
    (d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
    (e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
    (f) omitted
    (g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

When Freedom of speech and expression is restricted:-

  • Affects the sovereignty and integrity of India – only serious & aggravated issues such as waging of war, riots, crimes
  • Interferes with the friendly relations with foreign states
  • Maintenance of public order, decency or morality
  • No abusive language or obscenity
  • Reputation
  • Contempt of court – civil (wilful disobedience) and criminal (scandalise the authority of court)
  • Seditious charges: Section 124-A in the Indian Penal Code (IPC)
    • It says ‘Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India’ shall be punished with life imprisonment

Right to Privacy

It has been recognised by the International Convention of Human Rights (1948), Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made by the Convention, states:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, not to attack upon his honour and reputation, Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

In Govind vs. the State of M.P., the Supreme Court observed:

Even assuming that the right to personal liberty and the freedom of speech create an independent right of privacy as an emanation from them which one can characterise, a fundamental right, we do not think the right if absolute.