Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication and expression through mediums including various electronic media andpublished materials. While such freedom mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state, its preservation may be sought throughconstitutional or other legal protections.
With respect to governmental information, any government may distinguish which materials are public or protected from disclosure to the public based onclassification of information as sensitive, classified or secret and being otherwise protected from disclosure due to relevance of the information to protecting the national interest. Many governments are also subject to sunshine laws or freedom of information legislation that are used to define the ambit of national interest.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers"
This philosophy is usually accompanied by legislation ensuring various degrees of freedom of scientific research (known as scientific freedom), publishing, press and printing the depth to which these laws are entrenched in a country's legal system can go as far down as its constitution. The concept of freedom of speech is often covered by the same laws as freedom of the press, thereby giving equal treatment to spoken and published expression.
ARTICLE 19 monitors threats to free expression around the globe; lobbies governments to adopt laws that conform to international standards of freedom of expression; and drafts legal standards that strengthen media, public broadcasting, free expression, and access to government-held information. The Media Law Analysis Unit, established in 1998, also produces legal analysis and critiques of national laws, including media laws. In addition, ARTICLE 19 provides legal counsel on behalf of individuals or groups whose rights have been violated; and provides capacity-building support to non-governmental organizations, judges and lawyers, journalists, media owners, media lawyers, public officials and parliamentarians
ARTICLE 19’s work is organised into five Regional Programmes—Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East—and a Law Program. It has over 70 staff and regional offices in Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, Senegal, and Tunisia. It works in partnership with nearly 100 organizations in more than 60 countries around the world.
The Indian Constitution, while not mentioning the word "press", provides for "the right to freedom of speech and expression" (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under sub clause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt, court, defamation, or incitement to an offense". Laws such as the Official Secrets Act and Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (PoTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under PoTA, person could be detained for up to six months for being in contact with a terrorist or terrorist group. PoTA was repealed in 2006, but the Official Secrets Act 1923 continues.
For the first half-century of independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on press freedom. Indira Gandhi famously stated in 1975 that All India Radio is "a Government organ, it is going to remain a Government organ..." With the liberalization starting in the 1990s, private control of media has burgeoned, leading to increasing independence and greater scrutiny of government.
Implications of new technologies
Many of the traditional means of delivering information are being slowly superseded by the increasing pace of modern technological advance. Almost every conventional mode of media and information dissemination has a modern counterpart that offers significant potential advantages to journalists seeking to maintain and enhance their freedom of speech.
A few simple examples of such phenomena include:
Satellite television versus terrestrial television: Whilst terrestrial television is relatively easy to manage and manipulate, satellite television is much more difficult to control as journalistic content can easily be broadcast from other jurisdictions beyond the control of individual governments. An example of this in the Middle East is the satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera. This Arabic-language media channel operates out of Qatar, whose government is relatively liberal with respect to many of its neighboring states. As such, its views and content are often problematic to a number of governments in the region and beyond. However, because of the increased affordability and miniaturisation of satellite technology (e.g. dishes and receivers) it is simply not practicable for most states to control popular access to the channel.
Web-based publishing (e.g., blogging) vs. traditional publishing: Traditional magazines and newspapers rely on physical resources (e.g., offices, printing presses) that can easily be targeted and forced to close down. Web-based publishing systems can be run using ubiquitous and inexpensive equipment and can operate from any global jurisdiction. To get control over web publications, nations and organisations are using geolocation and geolocation software.
Voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) vs. conventional telephony: Although conventional telephony systems are easily tapped and recorded, modern VOIP technology can employ low-cost strong cryptography to evade surveillance. As VOIP and similar technologies become more widespread they are likely to make the effective monitoring of journalists (and their contacts and activities) a very difficult task for governments.
Naturally, governments are responding to the challenges posed by new media technologies by deploying increasingly sophisticated technology of their own (a notable example being China's attempts to impose control through a state-run internet service provider that controls access to the Internet) but it seems that this will become an increasingly difficult task as journalists continue to find new ways to exploit technology and stay one step ahead of the generally slower-moving government institutions that attempt to censor them.
In May 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation intended to promote a free press around the world, a bipartisan measure inspired by the murder in Pakistan of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001. The legislation, called the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, requires the United States Department of State to expand its scrutiny of news media restrictions and intimidation as part of its annual review of human rights in each country. In 2012 the Obama Administration collected communication records from 20 separate home and office lines for Associated Press reporters over a two month period, possibly in an effort to curtail government leaks to the press. The surveillance caused widespread condemnation by First Amendment experts and free press advocates, and led 50 major media organizations to sign and send a letter of protest to American attorney general Eric Holder.