Licensing / Media Regulation
The Case of Patrick Chitongo
Closed Expands Expression
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The Supreme Court declared that the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 and the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960 violated the constitutional right to free speech. The Act and Order regulated the prices publishers could charge for newspapers based on page count and the amount of content, with Sakal Papers alleging that this was an unconstitutional violation of free speech. The Court found that the laws in question would either increase prices or reduce the number of pages, both of which would inhibit the dissemination of ideas, a fundamental aspect of the right to free speech.
Mudholkar, J., delivered the opinion of the Court. A private company that published newspapers, its shareholders, and two readers (Sakal) filed petitions against the state. The publishing company challenged the constitutional validity of the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 (Newspaper Act), which empowered the central government to regulate the price of newspapers in relation to their pages and the allocation of space for advertising matter.
The publishing company also challenged the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960 (Newspaper Order), which was passed by the Government under the Newspaper Act to put in place such regulations. The petitions argued that the Newspaper Act and Newspaper Order violated the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
While the Indian Constitution does not explicitly guarantee freedom of the press, it is recognized as part of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), which may be restricted on grounds mentioned in Article 19(2). The right to propagate one’s ideas includes the right to publish them, disseminate them, and circulate them.
The Court noted that by providing the maximum number of pages for the particular price charged, the effect of the Newspaper Act and Newspaper Order was to compel newspapers either to reduce the number of pages or to raise the prices. While the former restricted the dissemination of news and views by the newspapers, the latter would have significantly cut down their circulation. Both involved a direct infringement of the newspapers’ right under Article 19(1)(a). The freedom of a newspaper to publish any number of pages and to circulate to any number of persons is an integral part of the freedom of speech.
Regulation of advertising space forced newspapers either to raise their prices and compromise on circulation or to run at losses, eventually forcing them to close down. This was a direct, and not a remote or incidental, infringement on the right to freedom of speech and expression. India contended that advertising is a commercial aspect of speech, and restrictions in the public’s interest may be placed on it under Article 19(6). However, the Court held that the right to freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of restricting business activities.
The Court held that the Newspaper Act and Newspaper Order were unconstitutional. In view of this relief, the Court did not consider the grievance of the readers that their right under Article 19(1)(a) was also infringed.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This is considered one of the landmark decisions that forwarded freedom of press jurisprudence in India, reinforcing that restrictions related to number of pages, price, advertisements, and circulation of newspapers, constitute a direct infringement on the freedom of speech and expression.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Arts. 19(1)(a) (the right to freedom of speech and expression), 19(2) (grounds to restrict), 19(6) (restrictions in the public’s interest).
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Indian Supreme Court decisions are binding on all courts within India.
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