Shadow of Truth Faces Consequences


In a landmark judgment, the Bombay High Court has ruled that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression extends to state-controlled television. Fiery Bombay-based lawyer and activist Indira Jaising had charged that Doordarshan (Indian TV) had wrongfully deleted her views from a program on women and the law.

Jaising was interviewed last March for an episode of "Sach Ki Parechaiyan" (Shadow of Truth). When the show appeared two days later, Jaising discovered that her remarks on relatively noncontroversial issues like dowry legislation were telecast, but everything she had said on the controversial Muslim Women's Bill, dealing with divorce, was deleted. Jaising had argued that the bill is unconstitutional and would violate women's right to equality under the law.

In her ruling, High Court Justice Sujata Manohar was acerbic about Doordarshan's argument that free speech doesn't apply to TV: "Mr. Nilakantha, Counsel for Doordarshan, has not cited any authority of law in support of this somewhat alarming proposition. The right to freedom of speech and expression has been considered by our courts as including freedom of the press. The right equally covers freedom of other media as well."

Classical liberal Minoo Masani, one of the founders of the now-defunct Free Party, welcomed the ruling: "It is a good thing. The audio-visual media have as much right to freedom of expression as newspapers and magazines."