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Freedom of Press

Article 19(1)(a) secures to every citizen the freedom of speech and expression and should be read with clause (2) which provides that the said right shall not prevent the operation of a law relating to matter specified therein. The Fundamental Right of the freedom of the press is implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression. It essential for political liberty and proper functioning of democracy.

“The liberty of press” as defined by Lord Mansfield in Lowell V. Griffin, (1938) 303 US 444, “consists in printing without any licence subject to the consequences of law.” Thus the liberty of the press means liberty to print and publish what one pleases, without previous permission. The freedom of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It includes also pamphlets and circulars and every sort of publications which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.

In the Case of Bennett Coleman & Co. V. Union of India(AIR 1973 SC 106):

In this case, the import policy for Newsprint for 1972 , Essential Commodities Act, 1955 provided bar on starting newspaper or editions by common ownership unit, as also interchangeability within common ownership units. It also fixed the maximum number of pages i.e. 10 pages, Which a newspapers could publish with an allowances of 20% increase only to newspaper below ten pages.

(1) The Government Contention was that it would help small newspaper to grow and to prevent a monopolistic combination of big newspapers.

(2) Government also sought to justify the reduction in the page level on the ground that the big dailies devote high percentage of space to advertisements and therefore, the cut in pages will not be felt by them if they adjusted their advertisement space.

Decision:- (1) The court held that the newsprint policy was not reasonable restriction within the ambit of Article 19 (2) and violative of Article 19 (1)(a). The newsprint policy abridges petitioner’s right of the freedom of speech and expression.

(2) The Court further held that the fixation of page limit will not only deprive the petitioners of their economic viability but also restrict the freedom of expression by compulsive reduction of page level entailing reduction of circulation and the area of coverage for news and view. As a result of reduction in pages the newspaper will have to reduce advertisement, which is their main source of income, and thereby they will be denied dissemination of news and view. That will also deprive them of their freedom of speech and expression.

(3) The Court held that the government can make a fair and equitable allotment of the available newsprint to the newspapers but once the allotment are made, newspapers must be left free to determines how they will adjust their newsprint.

Finally Court held that in the garb of distribution of newsprint, the Government has tended to control the growth and circulation of newspapers. Thus the said order is unconstitutional as being violative of the freedom of press guaranteed Article 19 (1)(a).

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