Prabhu Dutt v. Union of India & Ors.

After reading this judgement you will learn how the Supreme Court widened the ambit to freedom of press to include the right to know news and information regarding government administration.
CITATION1982 SCR(1) 1184
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice Y.V. Chandrachud
DATE OF JUDGEMENT07.11.1981

Introduction

The constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression conferred by Article 19(1)(a) Of the Constitution, which includes the freedom of Press, is not an absolute right; nor indeed does it confer any right on the Press to have unrestricted access to means of information. The Press is entitled to exercise its freedom of speech and expression by publishing a matter which does not invade the rights of other citizens and which does not violate the sovereignty and integrity of India the security of the State, public order, decency, and morality.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: This is a petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution by the Chief reporter of the Hindustan Times, Smt. Prabha Dutt, asking for a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ or direction directing the respondent, particularly the Delhi Administration and the Superintendent of Jail, Tihar, to allow her to interview two convicts Billa and Ranga who are under a sentence of death. The Aforesaid two prisoners have been sentenced to death for an offence under Section 302 Indian Penal Code and the petitions filled by them to the President of India for communication of the sentence are reported to have been rejected by the President recently.

Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether the Media comes under the Rule 549(4) of the Jail Manual?
  2. Whether a person who desires to interview a prisoner may have to subject him or herself to the search in accordance with the rules and regulations governing the interviews?
  3. Whether representatives of the Press should be allowed to be present at the time of the execution of the death sentence is a matter for the Superintendent to consider on merits and in accordance with the jail regulations?
Also Read  State of West Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal & Anr.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The Supreme Court held that the right to know news and information regarding administration of the government is included in the freedom of press. This right is not absolute and hence, restrictions can be imposed on it in the interest of the society, and the individual from whom the press obtains the information. In Prabhu Dutt, the court directed the superintendent of Tihar Jail to permit the chief reporter of the Hindustan Time to interview two death sentence convicts, under Art.19(1)(a) as they were willing to be interviewed. Further the Media are the friends of the society so in case where their application has been recently denied by the President, their interview was important for the Petitioner in order to showcase the reality behind these convictions.

Analysis

In the instant case, the right claimed by the petitioner is not the right to express any particular view or opinion but the right to means of information through the medium of an interview of the two prisoners who are sentenced to death. No such right can be claimed by the press unless in the first instance, the person sought to be interviewed is willing to be interviewed. The existence of a free press does not imply or see out any legal obligation on the citizens to supply information to the press. No data has been made available to us on the basis of whom it would be possible for us to say that the two prisoners are ready and willing to b interviewed.

Rule 549 (4) of the Mannual for the superintendence and management of jail provides that “every prisoner under a sentence of death shall be allowed such interviews and other communications with his relatives, friends and legal advisors as the superintendence thinks reasonable.” So there is no mention of the Media reporters and other social workers of taking the interview without the permission of superintendence of the Jail. But in the present case the Court rightly held that the media is termed to be friend of the Society and cannot be denied the right of an interview under Clause 4 of the said rule. The rule also provided that no newspapers should be allowed but it does not provide that no newspaper men will be allowed.

Also Read  The State of Tamil Nadu Represented by Its Secretary Home, Prohibition & Excise Dept & Ors v. K. Balu & Anr.

Conclusion

The conflict between the freedom of speech and that of fair trial raises question marks that are painstakingly unanswerable. The Supreme Court had even held that a trial by press, electronic media, or by way of a public agitation is the very antithesis of rule of law and can lead to a miscarriage of justice. On the freedom of speech and expression, the law of contempt imposes a significant limitation by prohibiting publication of any matter which prejudices a fair trial and a careless and scandalous attack against a judge imputing indirect motive amounts to criminal contempt of court. The law of contempt aims to prevent interference with the administration of justice. Criticism, which undermines the dignity of the court, cannot be permitted under the cloak of freedom of speech.