Freedom of Speech and Expression

Freedom of Speech and Expression guarantees Indian residents the freedom to freely express their thoughts and beliefs, whether by written or spoken words, photos, or any other communicative or visual representation such as gestures or signs. However, the right to free expression is not an absolute right, and the state may apply reasonable limits under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

What is Freedom of Speech and Expression?

Freedom of Speech and Expression refers to the freedom to fully express one's beliefs, whether by written or spoken words, photographs, or any other communicable or visual representation, including such gestures or signs. It includes the freedom to spread one's own ideas as well as the freedom to publish the ideas of others. It encompasses, among other things, press freedom, broadcasting freedom, advertising freedom, and so on.

Furthermore, the Indian Constitution provides every citizen of India with a number of fundamental rights. Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution guarantees the right to free speech and expression. With some acceptable constraints, freedom of speech and expression allows a person to freely express his or her ideas. It is an essential right in a democracy, and it is guaranteed to Indian citizens under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. It enshrines the concept of "freedom of thought and speech" enshrined in the Preamble.

Freedom of speech and expression is the cornerstone of every democratic society. The ability to freely speak and gather information from others is at the heart of free speech. It is known as the first liberty condition. It is considered to be the mother of all other freedoms. It is one of the most fundamental privileges, protected from official repression or restriction. The Constitution's Article 19(1) (a) guarantees this basic right to freedom of speech and expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes freedom of expression as a human right, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognizes it in international human rights law (ICCPR).

Importance of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

The right to free expression and expression is one of the rights that form the foundation of any democracy because it promotes people's freedom of thought and tolerance in society. It is a fundamental right in a democracy since it lets citizens engage in the country's many political, social, and economic activities.

Article 19(1) (a) is the foundation of press freedom, and the Court's major responsibility is to protect it. It is the basic foundation of the independence and liberty of the fourth pillar of democracy, namely the press (or media). It grants the right to critically examine the government and contribute to the formation of public opinion. Patanjali Shastri CJ noted in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, "Freedom of speech and press lie at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free public education, so important for the efficient functioning of the process of popular government, it is feasible."

Furthermore, Article 19(1) (a) guarantees the freedom to express one's views on social, economic, and political issues, to disseminate one's own point of view and ideology, and to allow for the free flow of ideas, beliefs, and thoughts, thereby strengthening society. Most importantly, it allows us to criticise and confront the government and its policies.

Case Law Regarding Freedom of Speech and Expression

Freedom of Press

The freedom of the press is inextricably linked to the freedom of speech, which serves as the cornerstone of political liberty and the healthy operation of a democracy. According to Dr. Ambedkar, "the editor of a newspaper or the management is only exercising the right of speech, and hence freedom of the press does not require specific mention."

In Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India, the Court affirmed that Article 19(1)(a) is the foundation of journalistic freedom and that the Court's primary responsibility is to uphold that freedom.

In the cases of Benet Coleman and Co. v. Union of India and Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras, the restriction on the maximum number of newspaper pages was found to be in violation of Article 19(1) (a), as was the prohibition on the entrance and circulation of a journal.

Furthermore, in the cases ofPrabhu Dutt vs. the Union of India and Sheela Barse vs. the State of Maharashtra, it was determined that the right to know news and information about government administration is included in the right to freedom of the press.

Freedom of Commercial speech

Commercial speech or commercial ads may be divided into two categories: those concerned with commerce or trade and those disseminating ideas. According to the decision in Hamdard Dawakhana vs. Union of India, the protection of free expression and the imposition of limits on it only apply to the second group.

In Tata Press Ltd. v. Mahanagar Telephone Nagar Ltd., it was determined that commercial speech is a component of free speech and expression. The absence of freedom of commercial speech would cripple the economic system in a democracy. The Hamdard Dawakhana Case narrowed the scope of the judgment, holding that commercial speech or ads cannot be denied protection under Article 19(1) (a) on the basis that they are produced by businessmen.

Right to Broadcast

With the advances in technology, courts have recognised a new dimension of free speech and expression: the right to broadcast and advertise. The Supreme Court heard arguments on this matter in Odyssey Communications Pvt. Ltd. vs. Lokvidayan Sanghatana, when a registered social organisation, Lokvidayan Sanghatana, filed a PIL to halt the airing of the show "Hony Anhoni" on the grounds that it promotes superstition. The court determined that freedom of speech includes the right to broadcast within the constraints of previously set terms and restrictions.

Right to Information

The right to information has been seen to emanate from the constitutional guarantee under Article 19(1) (a) in a number of decisions following the passage of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

It was decided in the Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal case that the right to information is a constitutional right rather than a legal right.This was reiterated by the Delhi High Court. Furthermore, it was held in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms that it is vital to include the freedom to impart and receive information under Article 19(1) (a) in order to guarantee that citizens are informed and that one-sided information or disinformation does not render democracy a farce.

In Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Manubhai D. Shah, the right to know how the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) works was affirmed as a matter of free speech and expression. The Supreme Court stated in the case of Dinesh Trivedi, M.P., and Ors. v. Union of India that "in modern democracies regulated by a constitution, it is self-evident that voters have a right to know about the activities of the government which they have elected."

Right to Criticize

The freedom of speech and expression protects the right to form an opinion and express it in a way that does not defame the other person to whom such criticism is addressed. Democracy allows for free policy debate and critique. In the case of S. Rangarajan vs. P. Jagjivan Ram, this point of view was affirmed.

Right to Expression Beyond National Boundaries

There are no geographical restrictions or constraints on the right to free speech or expression. The Supreme Court ruled in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India that Article 19(1) (a) covers both the right to talk and express in India and overseas.

Right to Remain Silent or Not to Speak

In Bijoe Emmanuel vs. State of Kerala and the National Anthem Case, the Supreme Court ruled that no one may be forced to sing the National Anthem "if he has genuine conscientious objections based on his religious beliefs." In a similar incident, three Jehovah's Witness pupils were dismissed from school for refusing to sing the national anthem, blatantly in defiance of the directive from the Kerala Director of Public Instructions. The circular made singing the National Anthem at school mandatory. Their claims were founded on religious beliefs that forbade them from participating in any ceremonies other than praying to Jehovah, their God.

The Supreme Court overturned the Kerala High Court's judgment to uphold the students' expulsion, ruling that no violation was committed under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, because they stood respectfully for the National Anthem. The right to quiet was recognized as a component of the right to free expression.


The Indian Constitution guarantees certain essential rights to every Indian citizen. Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution confers the right to freedom of speech and expression as one of these rights. A person's ability to express their thoughts freely is granted by their right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to some comprehensible limitations. It is one of the essential rights of a democracy, and it is guaranteed to all Indian citizens by Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. It enshrines the concept of "freedom of thought and speech" enshrined in the Preamble.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Does India really have freedom of speech and expression?

Ans. Yes, Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression (a). However, it is not absolute and is subject to reasonable constraints imposed by the state under the grounds specified in Article 19(2), such as public order, decency, morality, sovereignty, and national integrity, among others. The Indian judiciary has played a critical role in consistently broadening the scope of the aforementioned right to reflect changing times and circumstances.

Q2. Is freedom of expression a constitutional right?

Ans. Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right. It is not an absolute right and is subject to reasonable limitations imposed by the state under the subheadings indicated in Article 19 (2).

Q3. What is freedom of expression on the Internet?

Ans. One of the most fundamental human rights, freedom of expression, is inscribed in various international human rights treaties. This is true both offline and online. The Internet, with its many chances for people to express themselves, facilitates the exercise of this right.

Updated on: 16-Feb-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started