PUCL Bulletin,

July 1982

July 1982
Repressive measures against newspapers
Some legal precedents

The present government has regarded the press not as a medium of free expression but as its political adversary. Investigative journalism and the exposure of political corruption and violence is perceived as a threat by the government. Whereas a section of the media is chosen for selective patronage, an effort is made to impede and control publication of the other section.

Repressive measures against newspapers have ranged from the banning of newspapers to the ban on advertisement to be given to them. In fact, every public condemnation of a newspaper by persons holding significant positions in the corridors of power is a signal to advertisers to blacklist the inconvenient newspapers.

Many newspapers have fought valiant battles against the State against various repressive measures and on many occasions the Courts in India have struck down these measures as an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression. Even though there is no separate provision for the right of newspapers to print, Article 19 (1) (a) which guarantees a citizen the freedom of speech and expression includes that right. Article 19 (2) provides for restriction in the interest of security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency, morality or in relation to contempt of Court, defamation or…of an offence.

Amongst the first cases on the freedom of expression were those of Romesh Thapar (Seminar) and Brij Bhushan (Organiser). In Romesh Thapar's case restrictions were placed on the journal for securing public safety and in Brij Bhushan's case pre-censorship was ordered on the journal in the interest of public safety. Both the curbs were struck down as constituting an unreasonable restriction on the Freedom of Expression. These decisions however led to the First Amendment to the Constitution wherein 'public order' was inserted in Article 19(2) as a condition which could bear nexus to a restriction on article 19 (1) (a).

In the Hamdared Dawakhana case, a question arose as to whether an advertisement designed to promote sales could be covered under article 19 (1) (a). It was held that only when an advertisement expressed or propagated ideas could it be related to Freedom of Expression.

In the Bennet Coleman case, the Supreme Court was confronted with the question as to whether a restriction on the maximum number of pages that a newspaper could print violated Freedom of Expression. Adopting the 'direct and inevitable consequences' theory which the Court had earlier stressed in the Bank Nationalisation case, the Court held that the inevitable consequence of a curtailment of the size of a newspaper would be to effect what is to be published and hence the restriction violated Article 19 (1) (a).

Another recent case which constituted a threat to press freedom was filed by a Congress (I) M. P., Charnjit Singh against India Today. A correspondent of the magazine wanted to publish an article on the hotel project which Singh's company 'Pure Drinks' had undertaken. In order to enable him to get Charanjit Singh's version the correspondent wrote to him and annexed a questionnaire to him for his comments. Singh moved the Court and obtained an injunction from a Delhi Sub-judge's Court restraining the magazine from publishing an article against him. A pertinent question that arose was "can a Civil Court use its powers of injunction under article 39 rule 122 of the Code of Civil Procedure and impose a virtual pre-censorship on a newspaper or a magazine?" Eventually it was a well reasoned order of the senior Sub-judge Delhi, R. C. Chopra, who allowed the magazine's appeal and held that the gag order imposed could not be sustained in law.

Another recent assertion of the Freedom of Expression came from a judgement of Justice S. L. Sheth of the Gujarat High Court. The Consumer Education Society had published a report on the functioning of the Life Insurance Corporation. Subsequently, the official journal of LIC published a critique of the report. The Society sought a right to reply to the criticism in the columns of the journal. The LIC declined the publication of the rejoinder. The Gujarat High Court in a memorable judgement issued a mandamus to the LIC which as a state was bound to publish the views of citizens who had chosen to criticise them.


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