Judicial Interpretations on Mass Media

lawzmag.comSociety is affected by the media multifariously. Media plays vital role to acquire information and knowledge. The world became closer and cohesive due to transmission of information. Mass media have played a leading role in shaping, guiding and reflecting the public opinion. A well developed media system, informing and teaching its citizens, help democracy move towards its ideal state. In the current corrupt society, media plays a pivotal role in exposing the corrupt activities taking place in all government, trade and profession and make the public to think and act accordingly. Media may add new information to human knowledge. Even though, the activities of media should be controlled by various legislations and those legislations should be constitutionally valid. Otherwise, they behave like dictators in society. Thus the judiciary gave sensational judgments on mass media. Herewith, provides some of the decisions of the judiciary on mass media in various aspects.

Judicial Interpretations on Freedom of Press: Judiciary made number of sensational decision on freedom of press in various issues. They are –

Fixation of Maximum Pages: In Bennet Coleman Co. Vs. Union of India (AIR 1973 SC106) the validity of the Newsprint Control Order 1962 which fixed the maximum number of pages at 10 which a newspaper could publish was challenged as violative of fundamental rights guaranteed in Article 19(1) (a) and Article 14 of the Constitution. The Court has held that the Government cam make a fair an equitable allotment of the available newsprint to the newspapers but once the allotments are made newspapers must be left free to determine how they will adjust their newsprint. They must be left free to determine their pages their circulation and their new editions within the quota allotted to them. Freedom is both in circulation and content. Hence, it has been made clear that the fixation of maximum  number of pages of newspapers by the Government is against the freedom of press guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a).

Fixation of Minimum price according to number of pages: In Sakal Paper Ltd. Vs. Union of India (AIR 1962 SC 305), the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960, which fixed a minimum price and number of pages which a newspaper was entitled to publish was challenged as unconstitutional on the ground that it infringed the liberty of press guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The Court has made it clear that the freedom of speech and expression cannot be curtailed in the interest of general public. The only restrictions which may be imposed on this right are those which clause (2) of Art.19 permits. Accordingly  the court has that section 3(1) of the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 and the Daily Newspaper (Price and Page) Order, 1960 made thereunder were unconstitutional as being in violation of Article 19(1) (a).

Levy of duty or tax on Newspaper industry: In Indian Express Newspaper Vs. Union of India [(1985) 1 SCC 641] the petitioner challenged the imposition of import duty and the levy of auxiliary duty on the newsprint on the ground of infringement of the freedom of press as it imposed a burden beyond the capacity of the industry and also affects the circulation of the newspapers and periodicals. The Supreme Court has held that the newspaper has no immunity from general laws like taxation or labour laws. The Court has rejected the plea that no duty can belevied on the Newspaper industry.  The levy of duty or tax on the newspaper industry will be valid if it is within reasonable limit. The Court has held that levy of duty or tax on the newspaper industry is subject to review by courts in the light of the provisions of the Constitution.

Censorship is of two Kinds, namely, censorship usual and pre-censorship. Censorship means an order direction a person not to write or publish anything or deliver any speech about the matter prohibited to be made public or not to show any speech about the matter prohibited to be made public or not to show any objectionable scence in any film

Regulation of conditions of service of workmen in Newspaper Industry: In Express Newspaper Ltd. Vs. Union of India, (AIR 1958 SC 578), the validity of the regulation of conditions of service workmen in Newspaper Industry through Working Journalists (Constitution of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955 was challenged. The Court has held that the object of the Act was the amelioration of the conditions of the workmen in the newspaper industry.  The Court has made it clear that the press has no immunity from general laws like taxation or industrial laws consequently; the court has held that the Act is Valid.

Commercial Advertisement: Advertisement is undoubtedly a form of speech. But every form of  advertisement is not a form of speech or expression of ideas. Advertisement when it takes the form of commercial advertisement no longer falls within the concept of freedom of speech for the object of such advertisement is not the proportion of ideas- social, political or economic or furtherance of literature or human thought. Hence, an advertisement of commercial nature is not protected under Art. 19(1)(a).

Pre- Censorship: Censorship of the press is not specifically prohibited by a provision of the Constitution. Like other restrictions, its constitutionality has to be judged by the test of reasonableness within the meaning of Article 19(2). Imposition of Pre-Censorship on a journal or newspaper previous to its publications is a restriction on the freedom of press and will amount to an infringement of the freedom of speech and  expression guaranteed by Art. 19(1)(a). However, the pre- censorship may be valid if it can be justified on any ground of reasonable restriction permitted by Art. 19(2). But, the imposition of pre- censorship in the emergency  circumstances e.g., for the prevention of breach of peace or communal disturbance will be valid. It would be noted that when a Proclamation of Emergency is made under Art.352, Art.19 itself remains suspended automatically under Art.358 , so that, pre-censorship may be imposed, without any  restraint. Thus immediately after the proclamation of Emergency on the ground of internal disturbance in June 1975, a Censorship Order was issued (June 26, 1975), under Rule 48(1) of the Rules made under the Defence and Internal Security of India Act, 1971. It should be noted that after the election of 1977, the Proclamation of Internal Emergency was revoked on the 21st March 1977 and the Pre-Censorship Order was revoked on the 22nd of March 1977.

Censorship of the press is not specifically prohibited by a provision  of the Constitution. Like other restrictions, its constitutionality has to be judged by the test of reasonableness within the meaning of Article 19(2).

Constitutionality of Censorship of Films and Press: Censorship is of two Kinds, namely, censorship usual and pre-censorship. Censorship means an order direction a person not to write or publish anything or deliver any speech about the matter prohibited to be made public or not to show any speech about the matter prohibited to be made public or not to show any objectionable scence in any film. Mainly the film censor means cutting the indecent material. Censorship is valid in film and not for pres. In A.K.Abbas Vs. Union of India (AIR 1971SC481), it has been held that censorship of films including prior restraints is justified under the Constitution. However  in Indian Express Newspaper Vs. Union of India (AIR 1986 SC 515), it has been held that imposition of heavy tax restriction on newspapers virtually amounts to pre-censorship of a newspaper, which is prohibited in Constitution. However, reasonable restriction can be imposed on press under Art.19(2) of the Constitution. The State is not debarred from exercising any of its legitimate powers, so long as the impact of such legislation is not directly to affect the circulation or other aspects of the freedom of the press. Censorship of press has been rejected by the Supreme Court in Ramesh Thapor Vs. State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 129) stating that freedon of speech and expression includes freedom of propaganda of ideas and that the freedom is ensured by the freedom of circulation. In Bobby Art International Vs. Om Pal Singh Hoom (AIR 1996 SC 1846), popularly known as Bandit Queen Case, the Supreme Court has held that the Certificate issued to the film ‘Bandit Queen’ upon conditions imposed by the Appellate Tribunal is valid.

Conclusion: The media should provide to the largest number of people easy access to information which is reliable, relevant and abundant. The media must preserve their credibility and act as catalyst for social change. But, not to strengthen, preserve and promote undemocratic traditional cultures and values.  Their activities should not contradict to ensure that discrimination based on gender, religion, caste languages etc.

Dr. Sailaja Petikam

4 thoughts on “Judicial Interpretations on Mass Media”

  1. yash says:

    Good article

  2. charu says:

    Well written

  3. wassim says:

    Very informative

  4. anurag says:

    nice one

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