ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reading Press Freedom through Constitutional and Legal History

Between Freedom and Unfreedom: The Press in Independent India by V Krishna Ananth, Gurgaon, Haryana, India: The Alcove Publishers, 2020; pp 445, `599 (Paperback).

Historians of the press face a central question—do they focus on the influence of business interests on the press reportage, or should the relations of the state with the Fourth Estate take precedence? Between the histories of censorship (Barrier 1974) on the one hand and favourable biographies of the press barons on the other (Verghese 2005), the interaction of various interests and the ever-extended arm of the state becomes blurred. Hence, when an ex-journalist and current teacher of history attempts to write the history of the press in independent India, he steps into an already crowded field (the latest being Devika Sethi’s work on censorship in 2019). He tasks himself with re-examining the decades since India’s independence with a Habermasian lens on the influences that may colonise the press and through it, the lifeworld of rational discourse (Habermas 1984).

The author approaches this task through seven chapters, a rather short epilogue and a rich set of appendices. Treading lightly on the theoretical frameworks around freedom of expression and the press, V Krishna Ananth starts the book with the pre-independence beliefs in fundamental rights of free speech and how they initially played a role in shaping the Objectives Resolution of the Constituent Assembly. He cuts a clear path through the verbose debates to show how the fuzzy idealism of the freedom struggle collided and withered in the face of legal experts with an eye on reality. He considers the latter’s introduction of terms like public order and sedition as limiters of the fundamental right to freedom of speech, while refusing to give the press a special place in the scheme, an “original sin” from which the postcolonial woes of the press began.

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Updated On : 31st Oct, 2023
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