Privacy and the Media: A Critical Analysis

We know that liability for libel in common law is strict and the journalist don’t have any immunity against this. Even the Indian Penal Code doesn’t provide any exception to the media.  It is true that truth can be pleaded as a defence but Justice Brennan, noted in New York Times vs Sullivan6, the obligation to prove the truth of every statement made against a public official would have a chilling effect on the press to make comments on public issues, whereas, the theory of the constitution was that there should be raw bust and uninhabited debate on public issues, in the process of which some caustic or biting remarks could also be made. Justice Jeevan Reddy who delivered the judgment of the bench, referred to Justice Brennan’s judgment in the said case and that of the House of Lords in Derbyshire County Council 7 and held that the government officials in their individual capacity could; but they can recover damages only if they prove that the defendant either knew that the statement was false or that he was reckless and did not care to know whether it was true or false. Thus, our Law on the point is in accord with the law of the United States rather than with the Law of England as was laid down in Reynolds Vs. Times Newspaper Ltd.8

However, the rule framed in New York Times vs Sullivan,9 has been extended to public figures generally. On the other hand, the decision of our Supreme Court is limited to public officials though there is no reason why the rule should not apply to public figures as a class here as well.


In R.Rajagopal,10 the scope of privacy right against unwanted publication was defined by Justice Reddy in the following world; “citizen has the right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation,  motherhood, child bearing and education among other matters. None can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent weather truthful or otherwise and weather laudatory or critical”

Today, Media is not only a medium to express once feelings, opinions and views, but it is also responsible and instrumental for building opinions and views on various topics of regional, national and international agenda. The pivotal role of the media is its ability to mobilize the thinking process of millions. The increased role of the media in today’s globalized and tech-savvy world was aptly put in the words of Justice Hand of the United States Supreme Court when he said, “The hand that rules the press, the radio, the screen and the far spread magazine, rules the country”.

With the event of Liberalisation, not only the electronic media but also the print media got itself involved in the race of expanding its growth like any other business. And in this strong business marathon, the media started forgetting that it is not only an agency to gain business but also bears the greatest amount of liability upon its working norms. Till the 1980s dominant news ideologies in India promoted the notion of the press as a political agent. Journalistic ethics emphasised the duty of the press to work in tandem with the political elite to modernise the nation and educate its citizens. But this whole scenario has changed over the times and now the media, like any other corporate entity is only concerned about its magnification. The consequences of commercialisation is that it has less freedom in writing which is the cost of high pressure to conform to corporate interests.

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