Guest post by SMARIKA KUMAR
TRAI published a set of recommendations on issues relating to media ownership on 12 August 2014. A summary of the key points of these recommendations may be found here. But what do these recommendations imply for the freedom of speech and expression in India? This post is an attempt to contextualise TRAI’s recommendations against this question.
From No Regulation on the Business of Speech to Some Regulation on the Business of Speech
In its introductory chapter, TRAI says that the objective of its recommendations is to achieve plurality of views and opinions in media. It states:
“The objective of these recommendations is not, in any sense whatsoever, to curb the media or deprive it of its rights – that, in fact, would be a disservice to the Indian citizen – but to put in place suitable safeguards that would ensure citizens the right to obtain objective, unbiased and diverse views and opinions.” (para 1.5)
This is a remarkable move because the idea of media plurality has remained contested in the understanding of Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression to Indian citizens. The whole dance began in 1961 with the judgment of Sakal Newspapers v. Union of India, where the government sought to regulate the number of pages a newspaper could carry. Since such regulation would make newspaper prices of smaller newspapers comparable to big newspapers, the government argued that it would enable the smaller newspapers to secure larger circulation. One can clearly see how this was an attempt at enabling plurality in the newspaper business, so that the smaller voices are not stifled by the big voices.