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A Plea for Press Freedom in Constituent Assembly

It was on the morning of Dec 1, 1948 that Professor KT Shah made a strong plea for press freedom

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Jun 13 2016 4:05PM | Updated Date: Aug 16 2016 4:07PM

A Plea for Press Freedom in Constituent Assembly

A session is on at Constituent Assembly. (File photo)

 

It was on the morning of 1st December 1948 that Professor KT Shah made a strong plea in the Constituent Assembly before its Vice President Dr HC Mookherjee who was in chair and other members for Press freedom to be included in the Constitution as matter of citizens rights alongside right to freedom of speech and expression. Professor Shah also demanded right to worship to be included as well in his speech before the members. We reproduce here excerpts from Professor Shah’s submissions before the House 

 
Prof. K. T. Shah: Mr. Vice-President, Sir, I beg to move: 
 
"That in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) of article 13, after the word `expression'; the words `of thought and worship; of press and publication;' be added." 
So that the article as amended would read: 
 
"Subject to the other provisions of this article, all 
 
Citizens shall have the right-- 
 
(a) to freedom of speech and expression; of thought and worship; of press and publication;" 
 
In submitting this amendment, I must confess to a feeling of amazement at the omission whether it is by oversight or deliberate. I do not know of these very essential and important items in what are known as Civil Liberties. The clause contents itself merely with the freedom of speech and of expression. I do not know what type of freedom of speech the draftsman had in mind when he adds to it the freedom of expression separately. I thought that speech and expression would run more or less parallel together. Perhaps "expression" may be a wider term, including also expression by pictorial or other similar artistic devices which do not consist merely in words or in speech. 
 
Allowing that is the interpretation, or that is the justification for adding this word "expression", I still do not see why freedom of worship should have been excluded. I am not particularly a very worshipful man myself. Certainly I do not indulge in any overt acts of worship or adoration. But I think a vast majority of people feel the need and indulge in acts of worship, which may often be curtailed or be refused or in other words be denied unless the Constitution makes it expressly clear that those also will be included. All battles of religion have been fought--and it must be very well known to the draftsman that they are going on even now--in connection with the right of free worship. The United States itself owes its very origin to the denial of freedom of worship in their original home to the Fathers of the present Union some 300 odd years ago.That is why in most modern constitutions, the freedom of worship finds a very clear mention. I certainly feel therefore that this omission is very surprising, to say the least. Unless the Drafting Committee is in a position to explain rationally, is in a position to explain effectively why this is omitted, I for one would feel that our Constitution is lacking and will remain lacking in a most essential item of Civil Liberties if this item is omitted. 
 
The same or even a more forceful logic applies to the other "freedom of the press, and freedom of publication."The freedom of the press, as is very well known, is one of the items round which the greatest, the bitterest of constitutional struggles have been waged in all constitutions and in all countries where liberal constitutions prevail. They have been attained at considerable sacrifice and suffering. They have now been achieved and enshrined in those countries. Where there is no written constitution, they are in the well-established conventions or judicial decisions. In those which have written constitutions, they have been expressly included as the freedom of the press. 
 
Speaking from memory, I am open to correction, although I think it would not be necessary, even the United Nations Charter gives good prominence and special mention of freedom of the press. Why our draftsmen have omitted that, I find beyond me even to imagine. I dare say they must have very good reasons why the freedom of the press has not found specific mention in their draft. But, unless and until they give the reasons and explain why it has been omitted, I feel that an amendment of the kind I am proposing is very necessary. 
 
The Press may be liable to abuse; I feel there may have been instances where the press has gone, at least in the mind of the established authority, beyond its legitimate limits. But any curtailment of the liberty of the press is, as one of the present Ministers, who was then a former non-official member, called, a "black Act," in the last but one session of the legislature when there was an attempt to curtail the liberty of the press under certain circumstances. This endeared him at least so much to me that in spite of many differences with him. I felt he had done yeoman service, though singly opposing even at the third reading of the Bill. 
 
With the presence of such men in this House, I am amazed that in this Constitution a very glaring omission has taken place in the draft by leaving out the freedom of the press. I cannot imagine why these draftsmen, so experienced and so seasoned, should have felt it desirable to leave out the freedom of the press, and leave it to the charity of the administrations of the Constitution when occasion arose to include it by convention or implication, and not by express provision. Freedom of the press, I repeat, is apt to be misunderstood, or, at any rate, apt to be regarded as licence which you may want to curtail. There are many ways by which laws can be passed or laws can be administered whereby you can regard the liberty as verging upon licence and as such to be curtailed. To omit it altogether, I repeat, and I repeat with all the earnestness that I can command, would be a great blemish which you may maintain by the force of the majority, but which you will never succeed in telling theworld is a progressive liberal constitution, if you insist on my amendment being rejected.