Fundamental rights are guaranteed to the people so as to protect every aspect of human life. One such right is of ‘freedom of speech and expression.’ It is guaranteed under Article 19 of The Constitution of India, 1950. But this right can be availed by the citizens of India only.
This freedom of speech and expression is also guaranteed to the fourth pillar of democracy i.e. Media and press. This pillar serves as a powerful antidote to any abuse of power by other three branches – executive, legislative and the judiciary. The democratic credentials of a state are judged by the extent of freedom the press enjoys in that state.
The Apex Court in India, had time and again attempted to maintain the freedom of press in a democratic state through various responsible judgments. One such judgment is Sakal Papers v. Union of India. [i]
Facts Of The Case
The petitioner in this case was the private limited Co. named Sakal, who was engaged in the business of publishing daily newspaper and other petitioner were the readers of this newspaper. They approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court under Article 32 of The Constitution of India.
In the instant case, the petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of an act – The Newspaper ( Price and Page) Act, 1956 and an government order – The Daily Newspaper ( Price and Page) Order, 1960.
Both of these, contained the provisions to regulate the number of pages according to the price charged, prescribed the number of supplements to be published and regulate the size and area of advertisement. Also penalties were entailed in case of contravention of the provisions of the Act or order. Thus, the number of pages published by a newspaper depended upon the price charged to the readers.
Contention Of The Petitioners
The petitioners contented that the impugned act and order violated the freedom of press to speak and express as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a). The petitioners published a sum total of 34 pages in the weekdays and in order to conform to the impugned order, they have to reduce it to 24 pages, which in turn would result in the rise of price of the daily newspaper.
About 40% of area of the newspaper was used up for advertisement and the rest 60% was devoted to cover news, articles, views, etc. Hence, reduction in the area and volume of advertisement would reduce revenues forcing the newspaper to raise their prices which was bound to affect circulation.
In addition to it, if they reduce the number of pages, their right to disseminate news and views will be violated. This directly affected the freedom of speech and expression because inherent in this freedom is the right to publish and circulate the publication.
Contention Of The Respondent
The respondent Union of India i.e. Central government sought to support the Act and the order by contending that they regulated the commercial aspects of the newspaper and not the dissemination of news and views by them, and amounted to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(6). The activity of publishing advertisement in the newspaper is a trading activity and is completely different from the freedom of speech and expression.
The impugned act and order dealt with imposition of reasonable restriction in the interest of public on the trading activity of the newspaper company.
Also, they pointed out that the object of the act is to regulate the prices charged for the newspaper in relation to their pages. This will in turn prevent unfair competition among the newspaper publishing companies and will also prevent the rise of monopolistic combines.
The judgment was delivered by Hon’ble B.P. Sinha, C.J., A.K. Sarkar, J.R. Mudholkar, K.C. Das Gupta and N. Rajagopala Ayyangar, JJ.
The Supreme Court held, both the order and act of the government as unconstitutional and thus liable to be struck down. The court was of the view that the purpose was to reduce circulation of some newspaper by making their price unattractively high for their readers.
The court also held that “ the freedom of newspaper to publish any number of pages or to circulate it to any number of persons is each an integral part of the freedom of speech and expression and any restraint place upon either of them would be a direct infringement of the right of freedom of speech and expression.
The court also agreed to the two facet aspect of the newspaper – dissemination of news and views and commercial. Former is dealt under Article 19(1)(a) and later under Article 19(1) (g). However, the state cannot seek to place restrictions on business by directly and immediately curtailing any other freedom guaranteed. “ Therefore the right of freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of placing restrictions on the business activities of a citizen.” The court emphasized, “ The freedom of speech and expression of opinion is of paramount importance under a democratic constitution and must be preserved.
(Author: Muskan Krishnani, pursuing B.B.A,. LLB (Second Year) from Amity University, Chhattisgarh.)
[i] Sakal Papers v. Union of India AIR 1962 SC 305 : (1962) 3 SCR 842