Madras HC dismissed a petition challenging the exemption of print media operations from lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19

T. Ganesh Kumar v. Union of India, WP No. 7457 of 2020, decided on 09-04-2020

The petition was filed challenging the exemption given by the Centre to the print media and electronic media by virtue of Notification No. 40-3/2020 dated 24-03-2020. A Division Bench comprising of Justice N Kirubakaran and Justice R Hemalatha made keen observations on the significance of newspaper publication in a democratic country. It stated “a vibrant media is an asset of our country” 

The Court highlighted the importance of print media in a democratic set up in the beginning of the Order by quoting Former US President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) in which he says that: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have Government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Petitioner relied on a study named  “Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1”, in which it has been stated that, “Coronavirus would persist up to 4 to 5 days and 24 days in paper and cardboard medium respectively[1]”.The petitioner argued that the“COVID-19 may spread through newspaper contact, as the virus can survive on paper surfaces for about 4 days. If the Newspapers are published and it is supplied to the readers, there is a possibility of spreading the virus even if the delivery boy is infected with the Virus”.

However, Mr.P.H.Aravind Pandian, learned Additional Advocate General submitted that research in this area is very limited and it is not a final one. There is a possibility of the spread of the virus even by the circulation of money.  He relied on the document filed by the petitioner which stated that Dr T.Jacob John, Professor of Virology at Christian Medical College, Vellore agreed, that the paper products have a risk of spreading the disease, still amongst all the scenario through which the virus can be spread, transmission through newspapers is the least probable. He suggested that the spread of pathogen can be curbed by simply washing hands with soaps after handling the newspapers or currency notes’[2].

Additional Advocate General submitted that right to information is a fundamental right and therefore, any steps to restrain the print media from publishing will go against the fundamental rights of the Citizens.

The bench stated that the research of spreading of virus through newspapers or through paper surface has not been extensively made and it has not been conclusively decided. Therefore, if the Print Media is restrained, based on preliminary researches and in absence of sufficient data, then it would go against the fundamental rights of not only the publisher, editor but also the readers, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a)[3]of the Constitution of India.

The court stated that‘any attempt to restrict or prohibit the publication of newspapers would amount to the muzzling of independence of Media.’ 

In the end, while dismissing the petition, the Court quoted, “Newspapers have become more important to the average man than the scriptures.” – Mahatma Gandhi


[1]Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1 (March 17, 2020) published in THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE
[2]Devika, COVID 19: Madras HC declines petition to restrain publication and distribution of newspapers amid fears of spread of Coronavirus (Apr. 10, 2020)
[3]Article 19 (1)(a) All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.