Content Regulation / Censorship, Indecency / Obscenity
The Case of the Information Agency Rosbalt
Closed Expands Expression
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The Supreme Court of India held that the right to respond to objections to one’s position was an integral part of freedom of expression. Both appeals in the case refer to separate instances of when a state-controlled entity refused to publish or broadcast work that criticized the government. The Court reasoned that government-controlled means of publication have a greater burden to recognize an individual’s right to defend themselves and if a State censors content, then it is obligated to provide reasons valid in law.
The appeals in question concern two separate incidents of criticism of government machinery.
The first instance concerned an academic publication criticizing the Life Insurance Corporation of India’s [“LIC”] schemes. The magazine run by LIC published a reply to this research paper but refused to publish the rejoinder written by the author of the paper.
The second instance concerned a documentary film on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, a case concerning the leak of lethal gases and the liability of Union Carbide for the deaths so caused. This film won a national award. During the presentation of the award, the Central Information Commissioner stated that it would be screened on Doordarshan channel as part of a series on award-winning short films. However, Doordarshan refused to broadcast.
LIC and Doordarshan are State-controlled entities and therefore, Fundamental Rights were considered to be enforceable against them in separate writ petitions before High Courts. The appeal from both cases were combined to decide on a common question of law.
The appellants averred that the LIC publication was an in-house newsletter and therefore, they were allowed to exercise discretion. Similarly, the film series did not cover all short films and Doordarshan was allowed to set forth its own criterion.
The respondents viewed the discretion in both cases as one that allows the State to suppress dissent. They considered the content regulation to be a violation of their right to freedom of expression.
The Court held that freedom of expression includes not just the freedom to circulate one’s views but also the right to defend them. In recognizing this right, it placed a greater burden on publications made using public money. Thus, the claims of discretion in both cases was rejected. Where the State rejects content, it is obligated to present reasons that are valid in law. Reasons such as the content only presents one side of the debate goes against the principle of freedom to express one’s perception about an event. Therefore, such reasons were held to be invalid.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
It expands expression by recognizing that the right to defend one’s position was an integral part of freedom of expression. It also places a high burden on rejection of content by government-controlled media by requiring them to provide reasoned decisions that are valid in law.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
As a decision of the Supreme Court, it has binding preferential value on future decisions of the same Court as well as all other Courts in the territory of India.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.