In this landmark case before the constitutional bench of the Hon’ble Supreme court the constitutional validity of the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 and the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960 was challenged by one newspaper named Sakal claiming that the same violates the right to free speech. The Hon’ble Supreme Court held the aforesaid Act and Order as unconstitutional being violative of freedom of speech as the same would either increase prices or reduce the number of pages which would inhibit the dissemination of ideas, a fundamental aspect of the right to free speech.
2. Facts of The Case
A Marathi newspaper company named Sakal had daily edition which contained 6 pages a day for five days in a week and 4 pages in one day which was priced at 7np. The Sunday edition consisted of 10 pages and was priced at 12np. About 40 percent of the space in the newspaper was taken up by advertisement matter and the rest was devoted to news, articles, features, views, etc. The Government of India, in the year 1952, appointed a Press Commission for enquiring into the issues related to the press. The Press Commission submitted its report with certain recommendations. To implement those recommendations, the Central Government came with the Act, 1956 wherein it was provided that the price of the newspaper would be dependent on the no. of pages and size. It also provided for the allocation of space for advertising matters. Subsequently, the Order, 1960 was introduced which dealt with publishing the maximum no. of pages in relation to the charged price. The Order, 1960 further prescribed about the supplements which might be issued. Newspaper Sakal and its two shareholders in one writ petition and two of its readers in separate writ petition challenged the constitutional validity of both the Act, 1956 and the Order, 1960.
3. Arguments Advanced on behalf of the Petitioners
The petitioners challenged the impugned Act, 1956 and the Order, 1960 on the ground of violation of the right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India claiming that the said Act and Order curtail the freedom of the press. It was contended that if the impugned Act and Order would be given effect to, then the petitioner will have to increase the selling price of the newspaper to continue with the same no. of pages which would adversely affect its circulation. It was further contended that if they will reduce the no. of pages then they will have to curtail the news and thus the same would violate the right of the petitioner guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. It is further contended that the respondents restricted the publication of an issue of supplements except those on January 26 and August 15 and thus would amount to interfere with the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution. It is stated that the Act 1956 and The Order 1960 are also violative of Article 14 of the Constitution in as much as their object is to promote the arbitrary interest of some newspapers at the expense of the others. It was claimed by the petitioners that there was no reasonable classification or rationale between the restrictions imposed and the object sought to be achieved by introducing the Act and the Order.
4. Arguments Advanced By The Respondents
Per contra, on behalf of the respondent-Union of India, it was stated that the impugned Act and the Order have been promulgated to prevent unfair competition amongst newspapers as also to prevent the rise of monopolistic combines so the newspaper may have a fair opportunity of free discussion. The effect of the provisions of the Act, 1956 is to provide for the maximum matters which a newspaper could make available to the public at a certain price, and thus it does not in any way restrict the right of the petitioners to propagate their ideas. It is also contended that the freedom of speech and expression has no concern with the legislation in question and consequently no question of the violation of the provision of Article 19(1)(a) at all arises. The impugned Act and the Order has been promogulated to implement the recommendations of the Press Commission of India in the public interest for restrictions on the trading activities of the newspaper. The respondent claimed that an old newspaper has large advertisement revenue and thus they are in a more advantageous position than the upcoming newspaper due to which the freedom of expression of others is restricted. It was contended that the petitioner is able to publish more no. of pages due to which they give large space for advertisement than others and right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to express their views is hampered.
Whether the right of publishing a newspaper and its circulation comes under the right of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India?
If the answer of first question is in affirmative, whether impugned Act and the Order is violative of the right of the petitioners guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India or the same is protected by the provisions of Clause 2 of Article 19?
Whether the right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) may be curtailed on any other ground except as contained in clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India?
5. Judgement Of The Court In Brief:
So far the issue no.(i) is concerned the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the right to propagate once ideas is inherent in the conception of freedom of speech and expression for the purpose of propagating his ideas every citizen has a right to publish them, to disseminate them and to circulate them. He is entitled to do so either by word of mouth or by writing. The right guaranteed thus extends subject to any law competent under Article 19(2) not merely to the matter which he is entitled to circulate but also to the volume of circulation.
So far issue no.(ii) is concerned, it is held that from the perusal of the Act and the Order makes it clear that the right of a newspaper to publish news and the views and to utilize as many pages as it likes for that purpose is made to depend upon the price charged to the readers. Prior to the promulgation of the Order, 1960, every newspaper was free to charge whatever price it chooses and thus had a right unhampered by State Regulation to publish news and views this liberty is obviously interfered with by the order which provides for the maximum number of pages for the particular price charged. It is further held that raising the price of the newspaper even by a small amount would adversely affect its circulation. If a newspaper is directed to reduce their sizes then the same would amount compel them to restrict the news and views which leads to violation of article 19 1(a) of the constitution. After coming into force of the Act, 1956 and Order, 1960, the newspaper will be restrained from publishing any no. of pages to express their views unless they raise the selling price as provided in the Schedule of the Order, 1960. Thus, the commencement of the Act, 1956 and Order, 1960 would be violative of the right of newspaper guaranteed under article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The court further held that Section 3(1) of the Act, 1956 which provides for the allocation of space for advertisement directly affects freedom of circulation since if the area for advertisement would be curtailed the same would affect the price of the newspaper resultantly the circulation will go down. Thus, the object of the impugned Act and the Order was to regulate something which is related to the circulation of a newspaper which is a part of the right of freedom of speech.
So far issue no.(iii), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the right to freedom of speech and expression is an individual right guaranteed to every citizen by article 19 1(a) of the constitution. There is nothing in Article 19(2) that permits the State to abridge this right on the ground of conferring a benefit upon the public in general or upon a section of the public. It is not open to the state to curtail or infringe the freedom of speech of one for promoting the general welfare of a section or a group of people unless its action could be justified under a law competent under clause (2) of Article 19. Although it is within the power of the state to restrict the right of a citizen to carry on business in the interest of the general public it is not open to achieve this object by directly and immediately curtailing any other freedom of that citizen guaranteed by the constitution an which is not susceptible of abridgment on the same ground as are given 19(6). Freedom of speech can be restricted only in the interest of the security of the state, friendly relations with a foreign state, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence.
6. Analysis of the Judgment:
In the present case, a challenge was made to the constitutional validity of the impugned Act, 1956 and the Order, 1960 on the ground the same are violative of the rights guaranteed under article 19 1(a) of the constitution of India. The constitutional bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that though it is not specifically stated in the constitution that the freedom of the press comes under the freedom included in Freedom of Speech and Expression it is held that the right to propagate once ideas is inherent in the conception of Freedom of Speech and Expression and for the purpose of propagation his ideas every citizen has a right to publish them, to discriminate them and to circulate them. Thus, the right guaranteed to publish newspapers and to circulate is saved under article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India and the same shall be restricted only for the condition mentioned under article 19(2). It is further held that the Constitution must be interpreted in a broad way and not in a narrow and pedantic sense. The court must interpret the Constitution in a manner that would enable the citizen to enjoy the rights guaranteed by it in the fullest measure subject to permissible restriction. The State cannot make a law that directly restricts one’s freedom even for sourcing the better enjoyment of another freedom.
Having laying down the above principle the Constitutional Bench gone through the provision of the impugned Act and the Order and found that by the said Act and the Order the Government intended to regulate the prices of newspapers in relation to their pages and sizes and to regulate the allocation of space for advertising matter. It is found that after coming into force of the said Act and Order the petitioner was compelled to either rise up the price to maintain the pages of the current edition or reduce the no. of pages and both the cases would directly affect the circulation of the newspaper of the petitioner. It is further found that the provision restricting the advertisement would also affect the circulation of newspapers as the same is dependent on the quantity of advertisement. Finally, the Constitutional Bench held the impugned Act,1956, and the Order, 1960 as unconstitutional being restricting the right of speech and expression of the petitioner.