The Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed that publication of false news is a disservice to the public and the mass media must maintain high professional standards and are obliged to verify the correctness of the news disseminated.
“In India, since we have a written constitution, it is recognized that freedom of speech is not an absolute unlimited right. Article 19(2) provides reasonable restrictions on what is guaranteed by article 19(1)(a). Therefore, the mass media must maintain high professional standards and are obliged to verify the correctness of the news disseminated. Publication of false news cannot be regarded as a public service, but a disservice to the public. Publication of very bit of news does not necessarily serve the public interest”
Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan made this observation while dismissing an appeal against a Trial court judgment which passed a decree against publisher and editor of Divya Himachal Newspaper towards damages of Rs. 10,000/- for publishing defamatory news against a barber he was accusing him of overcharging and fleecing his customers.
The Court observed that the freedom of press is not absolute, unlimited and unfettered at all times and in all circumstances as giving an unrestricted freedom of speech and expression would amount to an uncontrolled license. “The editor of a newspaper or a journal has a greater responsibility to guard against untruthful news and publications for the simple reasons that his utterances … have a far greater circulation and impact than the utterances of an individual and by reason of their appearing in print, they are likely to be believed by the ignorant. That being so, certain restrictions are essential even for preservation of the freedom of the press itself.”, the court said observing that it was the duty of the publisher and editor to check the news of information that was supplied to them by a news agent before publishing the same in the newspaper.
The Court also observed that newspaper has no privilege beyond any other member of the community in commenting any matter of public interest and no privilege whatsoever attaches to his position.A journalist in commenting on any matter of public interest has no special privilege.
By – Nikita Goel, Convenor, Students Reporter Committee, INBA