The Lawmatics Freedom of Press Series

The case of ‘Bennett Coleman Co. v. Union of India (1972)’ is a landmark case on Press Freedom in India. This case arose when petitions were filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India of the enforcement of fundamental rights.

Bench in the case

The majority judgment of Chief Justice S.M. Sikri, and A.N. Ray and Jaganmohan Reddy, was delivered by Justice A.N. Ray.

Justice H.M. Beg, delivered a separate concurring opinion.

Justice K.K. Mathew delivered a separate dissenting opinion

Facts of the Case

The petitions were filed against the import policy of Newsprint. Newsprint is described as white Printing Paper.

These Petitions challenged the Import Policy for Newsprint for the year April 1972 to March 1973. It was claimed that the News- print Policy infringe the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression in Article 19 (1)(a) and right to equality in Article 14 of the Constitution. Some provisions of the Newsprint Control Order 1962 were challenged as violative of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 14 of the Constitution.

Import Control Order, 1955

The 1955 Import Order was made in exercise of powers conferred by sections 3 and 4A of the Imports and Exports Control Act, 1947. The import of newsprint was restricted under the 1955 Import Order. That restriction of newsprint import was also challenged because it infringed Article 19(1)(a).

The Newsprint Control Order 1962 was made in exercise of powers conferred by section of the Essential Commodities Act. 1955. Section 3 of the 1955 Act enacted that if the Central Government is of opinion that it is necessary or expedient so to do for maintaining or increasing supply of essential commodities or for securing their equitable distribution and availability at fair prices, it may, by order, provide for regulating or prohibiting production, supply and distribution and trade and commerce therein.

The 1962 Newsprint Order in clause 3 mentions restrictions on acquisition, sale and consumption of newsprint. Sub- clause 3 of clause 3 of the 1962 Newsprint Order states that no consumer of newsprint shall, in any licensing period, consume or use newsprint in excess of the quantity authorised by the Controller from time to time.

Sub-clause 3A of clause 3 of the 1962 Newsprint Order states that no consumer of newsprint, other than a publisher of text books or books of general interest, shall use any kind of paper other than newsprint except with the permission, in writing, of the Controller.

Sub-clauses 3 and 3A of clause 3 of the 1962 Newsprint Order were challenged in these petitions on the ground that,

  • these clauses affect the volume of circulation, the size and growth of a newspaper and thereby directly infringe Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution.
  • The restrictions mentioned in these sub-clauses of clause 3 of the 1962 Newsprint Order are also said to be not reasonable restrictions within the ambit of Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
  • Sub-clauses 3 and 3A of clause 3 of the 1962 Newsprint Orderare further impeached on the ground that they offend Article 14 of the Constitution. Sub-clause 3A is said to confer unfettered and unregulated power and uncontrolled discretion to the Controller in the matter of granting of authorisation.

The 10 Page ceiling was also imposed on the dailies.

The Court’s Analysis

  • Article 19(1)(a) provides that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. Article 19(2) states that nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation; of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of Court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Although Article 19(1)(a) does not mention the freedom of the Press, it is the settled view of this Court that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of the Press and circulation.[1]

  • It is indisputable that by freedom of the press is meant the right of all citizens to speak, publish and express their views. The freedom of the press embodies the right of the people to read. The freedom of the press is not antithetical to the right of the people to speak and express.
  • Fixation of page limit will not only deprive the petitioners of their economic viability but also restrict the freedom of expression by reason of the compulsive reduction of page level entailing reduction of circulation and denuding the area of coverage for news and views. If as a result of reduction in pages the newspapers will have to depend on advertisements as their main source of income, they will be denied dissemination of news and views. That will also deprive them of their freedom of speech and expression.

On the other hand, if as a result of restriction on page limit the newspaper will have to sacrifice advertisements ‘and thus weaken the link of financial strength, the organisation may crumble. The loss on advertisements may not only entail the closing down but also affect the circulation and thereby impinge on freedom of speech and expression.

  • Freedom of press entitles newspapers to achieve any volume of circulation. Though requirements of newspapers as to page, circulation are both taken into consideration for fixing their quota but the newspapers should be thereafter left free to adjust their page number and circulation as they wish in accordance with the dictates of Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution.
  • The faith of a citizen is that political wisdom and virtue will sustain themselves in the free market of ideas so long as the channels of communication are left open. The faith in the popular Government rests on the old dictum “let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well”. The liberty of the press remains an “Art” of the Covenant” in every democracy. Steel will yield products of steel. Newsprint will manifest whatever is thought of by man. The newspapers give ideas. The newspapers give the people the freedom to find out what ideas are correct.

Therefore, the freedom of the press is to be enriched by removing the restrictions on page limit and allowing them to have new editions or new papers. The restrictions are to be removed. Newspapers have to be left free, to determine their pages, their circulation and their new editions within their quota of what has been fixed fairly.

  • In the garb of distribution of newsprint, the Government has tended to control the growth and circulation of newspapers. Freedom of the press is both qualitative and quantitative. Freedom lies both in circulation and in content.


Bennett Coleman Co. v. Union of India, (1972)

[1] Read The lawmatics Series on ‘Freedom of Press’