Media is referred as the fourth estate following the legislature, executive and judiciary. While the constitution of India does not specifically state freedom of press but it is implied from the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). The term has its origin attributed to a parliamentary debate on the opening of press reporting in 1787 of the houses of commons of Great Britain. Media is directly not part of the political system but it challenges those in power and call them out. It has great impact on policies while having a social influence. It is regulated and monitored. However, Indian media has been home to media trials, succumbing to market pressure, quick opinion makers and sensationalism leading to its today’s ranking of Freedom of Press put out by Reporters Without Borders-142nd place in the list of 180 countries.
Madras High Court in 2018 stood by the freedom of press and media quoting ‘If the voice of the Fourth Pillar is stifled, India will become like a Nazi State’. There have been several instances in the past years where we have seen freedom of press has been on a ventilator. For instance, recently, UAPA charges have been held against two J&K journalists, Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq. Ashiq is a reported working with The Hindu has been booked for a news that was eventually proved inaccurate and Zahra, a photojournalist has been booked under UAPA for social media posts deemed “anti-national”. While Zubair Ahmed in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a freelance journalist was charged and arrested under the various sections of the IPC and Disaster Management Act over a tweet questioning the local administration’s quarantine policies.
According to Neha Dixit, an independent journalist, it has become difficult for journalists in India to publish ground reports or investigative reports which makes a room for evidence and fact-based journalism as there is increase in capitalist media influenced by corporate/political ideologies making more space for opinion journalism. She mentioned a new pattern in the present regime where along with the defamation case, they also file a criminal case which is easy to manipulate. On the same lines, according to Aliya Iftikhar, a Senior Asia Researcher of Committee to protect journalists, filing of defamation and criminal cases are not just about the threat of imprisonment but also a form of harassment as the legal system can be slow and puts a financial stress over the accused journalists who miss out on their jobs.
In recent years, independent online media and other alternative platforms have come into existence, whose mode of revenue is by people paying for them. Such platforms emphasis on quality journalism and therefore swear to provide facts/real news and not propaganda. Altnews.in and Newslaundry are examples of providing fact checking and credible news, respectively. Although this month, the government issued an order bringing OTT platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon and news portals under Information and Broadcasting ministry. Earlier there was no surveillance and the content creators could publish their work without worrying about any clearance certificates.