HC no to stall newspapers over fears of coronavirus, says it will violate fundamental rights

Chennai, Apr 9 () The Madras High Court on Thursdayrefused to stall publication of newspapers and dismissed aplea challenging the exemption given to print and electronicmedia from the national lockdown for coronavirus, observinga vibrant media was an asset for a democratic country likeIndia.

Rejecting the petitioner's contention that coronaviruscan spread through newspapers and hence they should not bepublished till the pandemic subsided, the court said mereapprehension or least probability cannot be a ground toprohibit the publication of newspapers.

It would amount to violation of the fundamental rights,of not only the Publisher, Editor but also the readers,guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, a benchcomprising Justice N.Kirubakaran and Justice R Hemalatha said.

A vibrant media is an asset for any democratic countrylike India. In the past, during the independence struggle, itplayed a vital role to form opinion against the British Rule.Subsequently also, the role of media against the dark periodof democracy (emergency during 1975-77) is laudable," thebench said in its order.Advertisement

Noting that the print media echoes the views of thepeople, the court said it was also the watchdog of thegovernment, bringing out the misdeeds and corrupt practices atthe highest level in the administration. It referred to Supreme Court orders, including a January10 this year judgement Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India whichupheld the freedom of press. Concurring with the arguments of Tamil Nadu AdditionalAdvocate General PH Aravind Pandiyan, the bench said it wasevident from records and also from the Media that spreading ofvirus through Newspapers or through paper surface "is not thatmuch extensive."

As rightly pointed out by the AAG, research in this fieldwas very limited and minimal.

When the researches have not been extensively made andnot conclusively decided if the print media was going to berestrained, it would go against the fundamental rights of thecitizens of the country.

"Mere apprehension or least probability cannot be aground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it wouldamount to violation of the fundamental rights, of not only thepublisher, editor but also the readers, guaranteed underArticle 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, it added.

Petitioner T Ganesh Kumar had argued that there was apossibility of spread of coronavirus if the newspaper deliveryboy was infected with it.The AAG relying on the opinion provided by T Jacob John,Pprofessor of Virology, Christian Medical College, Vellore,added spread of virus through newspapers or papers was a leastprobability. CORRVS VS

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