Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: Tarlok Singh Chauhan, J., dismissed the petition being devoid of merits.

The facts of the case are such that the petitioner was working in the field of journalism for the past more than 13 years as the Editor of the Hindi Weekly namely ‘Him Ujala’ circulated in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana having around 6,000/- copies circulation per week. The petitioner news weekly has been given award in the field of journalism by the Government of Himachal Pradesh i.e. ‘Laghu Patrikarita ke Kshetra me Nirantar Parkashan Hetu’, yet the accreditation of the petitioner has been cancelled only on the ground that there are certain FIRs pending against him.

Counsel for petitioners Mr Ashok Kumar Thakur submitted that the impugned action on the part of the respondent-State in stopping publication of the tenders and classified ads of the government and further not renewing the accreditation of the petitioner, is a direct attack on the freedom of press which is one of the pillars of democracy and it is imperative to ensure that there is no attack on the freedom of press and, therefore, also the action of the respondents-State is illegal.

Counsel for the respondents Mr Ashok Sharma, Mr Vinod Thakur and Mr Bhupinder Thakur submitted that the petitioner’s accreditation and suspension was placed before the Press Accreditation Committee, which is the final authority as per Rule 4 of H.P. Press Correspondents Accreditation and Recognition Rules, 2002 (for short ‘the Rules’), who after scrutiny of the record decided to keep under suspension the accreditation of the petitioner till the final outcome of the criminal cases pending against him in various Courts.

The Court relied on judgment Surya Prakash Khatri v. Madhu Trehan, 2001 SCC OnLine Del 590 observed that the power of the Press is almost like nuclear power – it can create and it can destroy. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative that the owner/editor of a newspaper like a petitioner shoulder greater responsibility and in case his own conduct is under scanner, then obviously, his accreditation has to be suspended.

The Court thus held that in the instant case, the accreditation of the petitioner has simply been suspended till the final outcome of the criminal case in exercise of sub-rule (2) of 14 of H.P. Press Correspondents Accreditation and Recognition Rules, 2002.

In view of the above, petition was dismissed.[Vijay Gupta v. State of Himachal Pradesh, CWP No. 7487 of 2014, decided on 09-04-2021]

Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Hot Off The PressNews

The Press Council of India Chairman Justice C.K Prasad has noted with concern that a number of journalists working for Business Standard of the Business Standard Pvt. Ltd. have been terminated from its Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bhubaneswar bureaus.

While taking Suo-Motu cognizance of the case, Comments have been called for from the Management of the newspaper in this regard.

Press Council of India

[Press Release dt. 30-07-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Madras High Court: A Division Bench of N. Kirubakaran and R. Hemalatha, JJ. while addressing a petition, quoted the below with regard to importance of newspapers:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have Government without newspapers, or newspapers without Government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Bench observed that, a vibrant media is an asset for any democratic country like India.

Quoting the role of media, Court stated that,

“…during the independence struggle, it played a vital role to form opinion against the British Rule. Subsequently also, the role of media against the dark period of democracy [1975-77] is laudable.”

Print media echoes the views of the people.

Further, stating that Supreme Court has upheld the freedom of press in very many Judgments, bench cited the Supreme Court case in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, wherein freedom of press was upheld stating that freedom of press is a requirement in any democratic society for its effective functioning and Governments are required to respect this at all times.

“Any attempt to restrict or prohibit the publication of newspapers would amount to muzzling of independence of Media.

What is expected is only the news and not the views of the publisher.”

Mixing of views and ideology should be avoided. However, it is a fact that some of the publishers are mixing their views along with the news.

The present petition has been filed challenging the exemption given by the Centre to the print media and electronic media by virtue of Notification No. 40-3/2020 dated 24-03-2020.

Petitioner stated that, COVID 19 is capable of spreading through paper surface which can survive about 4 days.

If the Newspapers are published and it is supplied to the readers, there is a possibility of spreading virus, even if the paper delivery boy is infected with the Corona Virus. Thus, the exemption of print media is being challenged.

Petitioner relied on a study named  “Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1”, in which it has been stated that,

Corona virus would persist up to 4 to 5 days and 24 days in paper and cardboard medium respectively. Based on the above said research studies, he would submit that if the Print Media publishes various Newspapers and if they are supplied to the readers, there is a possibility of spreading of virus through the Newspapers. When the Advanced countries themselves are struggling to control the spread of virus, developing country like India should not suffer because of the circulation of the Newspapers, as there is a likelihood of spreading of virus.

Therefore, he seeks an interim order restraining the Print Media from publishing any Newspapers in India.

Dr T.Jacob John, Professor of Virology at Christian Medical College, Vellore though agreed, that the paper products have a risk of spreading the disease, still stated that amongst all the scenario through which the virus can be spread, transmission through newspapers is the least probable. He would also suggest that the spread of pathogen can be curbed by simply washing hands with soaps after handling the newspapers or currency notes.

Additional Advocate General submitted that right to information is a fundamental right and therefore, any steps to restrain the Print Media from publishing will go against the fundamental rights of the Citizens.

Thus, Bench stated that,

More reasearch is needed to establish that the virus could spread easily through newspapers. When such is a position based on these preliminary researches and in the absence of sufficient data, the prayer sought for by the petitioner cannot be granted.

In the end, while dismissing the petition, Court quoted,

“Newspapers have become more important to the average man than the scriptures.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

[T. Ganesh Kumar v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 914, decided on 09-04-2020]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division Media and Communications List: Warby, J. dismissed a claim for initiating action for libel against a newspaper on the ground that the claim could not be maintained solely on the basis of the impugned heading of article, but the meaning of article must be derived after reading the entire article, instead.

Claimant sued the defendant for operating a website which published an article with the headline – “Two guilty of killing a woman while racing their cars”. The claimant was one of the two racers, who were charged for causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving and were found guilty by the jury, however, he had been acquitted of both the charges, and was convicted for careless driving. Claimant complained that he had been very seriously libeled by the said article. The main issue for resolution was whether the headline reflected the natural and ordinary meaning of the article and did the article mean that the claimant was one of two found guilty of killing a woman while racing their cars.

Counsel for the claimant Mr Sterling submitted that the report provided the implication that there were reasonable grounds to suspect the claimant of offences in question. He complained that the words of the article were clearly defamatory as the ordinary reasonable reader would inevitably perceive that the claimant unlawfully killed the lady, as it did not identify the offences of which the claimant was acquitted and convicted, and the article was also ignorant of any satisfactory antidote for its defamatory sentences. Counsel for the defendant,  De Wilde submitted that claimant could only complain of an imputation that defamed him – the excerpts of the article selected for complaint were internally incoherent and it could be understood from its context that the claimant was acquitted of both the offences of which another driver was convicted.

The Court relied on the decision in Charleston v. News Group Newspapers Ltd., [1995] 2 AC 65 in which the issue was whether the text of a newspaper article would, in any particular case, be sufficient for neutralizing the defamatory implication of a prominent headline. In that case, it was held that defamation would depend on the nature of libel which the headline conveyed and language of the text which was relied on to neutralize it, and also on the manner by which the whole of the relevant material was set out and presented.

Reliance was also placed on Chalmers v. Payne (1835) 2 Cr. M. & R 56, 159 where it was observed that “[If] in one part of the publication something disreputable to the plaintiff is stated, but that is removed by the conclusion, the bane and the antidote must be taken together.”

Thus, the Court opined that meaning of a published article or statement must be collected from the article or statement as a whole. The law does not permit a claimant to sue for damages in respect of a headline, however defamatory, if the headline and article are mismatched, and the impact of the headline is contradicted or neutralized by the remainder of the article.

It was observed that headlines commonly feature in bane and antidote arguments, and quite often there is a disconnect between the headline and body of an article. This is for the reason that headlines are made eye-catching, and a headline can create a libel, even if the text contains none.

In view of the above, the Court held that no reader of the whole article, could reasonably draw the conclusion that claimant was found guilty by a jury for unlawfully killing the lady. Thus, he could not complain of the article’s headline in isolation.  [William Alexander Spicer v. Commr. of Police of the Metropolis, [2019] EWHC 1439 (QB), decided on 07-06-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The Bench comprising of Goutam Bhaduri, J. allowed an appeal concerning the defamatory publication made against two doctors in a newspaper.

In the present case, it has been stated that the appeal was filed against the judgment and decree passed by Additional District Judge, Manendragarh, wherein suit for damages of Rs 1,00,000 was dismissed for alleging defamatory publication in newspaper on the ground that justification of truth exists on the published news item and after dismissal, this appeal value was reduced to Rs 50,000 for damages.

Facts of the case are that, the two doctors namely Dr PP.K. Niyogi and Dr C.P. Karan have acquired reputation and name by their work of extending different medical help to people. Defendant Praveen Nishi, was a Publisher, Printer & Chief Editor of newspaper namely Ghoomta Darpan, who had published a piece of news that the doctors are committing dacoity with the poor in a piece of news. Further, it was published that the plaintiffs without any reason used to give the injection to the patients and recover Rs 40-50/- fees along with tests, sonography etc. Therefore, plaintiffs stated because of the said publication, plaintiff’s image was tarnished.

Defendant had averred that the publication of news was made in the public interest and in all bonafide without any intention of damaging the reputation of plaintiffs. Court framed three issues and dismissed the suit.

As stated by Mr Nishikant Sinha & Mr Shakti Raj Sinha, Advocates for the appellant, the plaintiffs refused to give an advertisement to the newspaper of the defendant, as revenge, false publication of the news was made without any proof thereof. Further stated that, the evidence categorically shows that the damage was done to the reputation to which truth was absent.

“Mere levelling the allegation against the doctor without any substance or proof, the presumption cannot be drawn that it was in the discharge of a public duty.”

Reliance was placed on the decision of the Supreme Court in Sewakram Sobhani v. R.K. Karanjia, Chief Editor, Weekly Blitz; (1981) 3 SCC 208, in which it was held that:

“The truth of an allegation does not permit a justification under the first exception unless it is proved to be in the public good. Question whether or not it was for public good is a question of fact like any other relevant fact in issue.”

Thus, the High Court stated that the aforesaid principle would go to show that the said privilege which has been claimed by the defendant as the editor cannot be accepted consequently it can be completely insulated by presumption or justification or truth. The defence which has been raised by the respondent that it was in public interest in a defamatory damages suit may not be squarely applicable and accepted. Besides that, there was no evidence on record that such public interest exists. The evidence is an opinion.

“Justification or truth never existed for which the suit was dismissed by the Court below.”

The appeal was allowed and suit decreed for Rs 50,000 as against damages. [P.K. Niyogi v. Praveen Nishi, 2018 SCC OnLine Chh 680, decided on 03-12-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Sunil Gaur, J. dismissed a writ petition filed by Associated Journals Ltd. against the order of Land and Development Office whereby it decided to re-enter into the premises allotted to AJL.

AJL, an unlisted public company was incorporated in 1937 that published the newspaper, National Herald. In 1962-63, a premises 5-A, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi was allotted to AJL which is its registered office. As per a Perpetual Lease Deed of 1967, the premises was to be used by AJL for construction of a 5-storied building for the bona fide purpose of running press. In 2013, AJL was permitted to use four floors to let out to commercial concerns. Subsequently, it came to notice of the Land and Development Office (respondent) that no press was functioning in the premises for four years and it was being used mainly for commercial purposes. The respondent inspected the premises after which Breach Notice was sent to AJL in 2016. To confirm the present status, the premises was again inspected in April 2018. After receiving AJL’s reply on the show-cause notice issued, the respondent passed the impugned order wherein it decided to re-enter the premises; and if the possession of the premises was not handed over by AJL, necessary action under Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971 for their eviction would be taken. Aggrieved thereby, AJL filed the present petition.

Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Senior Advocate argued for AJL and Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India represented the respondent.

The High Court observed that AJL made bald and unspecific allegations of Mala fide action by the respondent. Such allegations were termed preposterous and no note of them was taken. As for the merits of the case, the Court held that respondent’s action followed principles of natural justice. Report of Inspection Committee was considered and found that no press activity was discernible at the premises. Petitioners not even disclosed the volume of publication of their newspaper National Herald. It was stated, “The subject premises was leased out to legendary AJL for its publication, but the dominant purpose is now practically lost. This Court is constrained  to observe that major portion of the ‘subject premises’ has been rented out and petitioners’ newspaper, which was to be housed originally in the basement and ground floor, has now been shifted on the top floor with hardly any press activity.” Observation was also made against the manner in which 99% shares of AJL were transferred to Young India Co. whose shareholders include Indian National Congress President Rahul Gandhi and former President Sonia Gandhi. After considering the record on merits, the Court held that respondent was entitled to invoke provisions of PP Act to evict AJL if did not hand over possession of the premises within two weeks. [Associated Journals Ltd. v. Land and Development Office, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13060, dated 21-12-2018]

High Courts

Calcutta High Court: On a petition filed by Ganashakti, an accredited newspaper, which was denied Government advertisements on the ground that it is an organ of a political party, a bench of Debangsu Basak J. set aside the decision of the State Government holding it to be bad in law.

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, learned counsel for the petitioner contended that the petitioner is an accredited newspaper recognized by Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP), Government of India and therefore the decision of the State Government to deny advertisements to a particular newspaper on the ground of political consideration is not only violation of declared policy of DAVP but also a violation of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of press as well as infringement of Article 14 of the Constitution.

Abhratosh Majumdar, learned counsel for the respondent contended that the decision of the State Government cannot be faulted as the petitioner’s newspaper is owned and published by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and as per Section 293A of the Companies Act, 1956 as well as Section 182 of the Companies Act, 2013, a Government company is debarred from contributing any amount directly or indirectly to any political party.

The Court relied on several landmark rulings including Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. UOI, AIR 1962 SC 305 and Bennett Coleman & Co. v. UOI (1972) 2 SCC 788 and noted that advertisement is a primary source of revenue for any newspaper, and that denial of advertisements would raise the cost price of a newspaper for the ultimate reader, thereby would adversely affect the circulation of a newspaper and impinge on freedom of speech and expression. The Court further noted that the State Government has no right to discriminate among similarly situate, and that the policy decision taken by the State Government cannot be equated with a law within the meaning of Article 13 of the Constitution, as the restrictive populace which subscribes to the petitioner is no ground for the Central Government and the State Governments to deny advertisements to it. Accordingly, the Court set aside the decision of the State Government and held that the State Government will consider and grant the petitioner advertisements as that of the other newspapers in the category in accordance with law. Ganashakti v. State of West Bengal, 2015 SCC OnLine Cal 339, decided on 27-02-2015.