Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Supreme Court on press freedom

The Supreme Court dismissed yesterday a petition seeking a ban on publication of obscene photographs in newspapers. Delivering the judgement, a Bench comprising Justice A.R. Lakshmanan and Justice Tarun Chatterjee, came out with a number of observations pertaining to freedom of the Press and choice of media for people in a democratic country like India.

The text of the entire judgement of the case can be read
here.

Here are some the observations:

On blanket ban:

  • “Any steps to impose a blanket ban on publishing of such photographs, in our opinion, would amount to prejudging the matter... An imposition of a blanket ban on the publication of certain photographs and news items etc. will lead to a situation where the newspaper will be publishing material which caters only to children and adolescents and the adults will be deprived of reading their share of their entertainment which can be permissible under the normal norms of decency in any society.”

On choice of media for people:

  • “In addition we also hold that news is not limited to Times of India and Hindustan Times. Any hypersensitive person can subscribe to many other Newspaper of their choice, which might not be against the standards of morality of the concerned person.”

On publication as a whole:

  • “We are also of the view that a culture of 'responsible reading' should be inculcated among the readers of any news article. No news item should be viewed or read in isolation. It is necessary that publication must be judged as a whole and news items, advertisements or passages should not be read without the accompanying message that is purported to be conveyed to the public. Also the members of the public and readers should not look for meanings in a picture or written article, which is not conceived to be conveyed through the picture or the news item.”

On nudity and obscenity:

  • “Where art and obscenity are mixed, what must be seen is whether the artistic, literary or social merit of the work in question outweighs its obscene content. In judging whether a particular work is obscene, regard must be had to contemporary mores and national standards…

  • “Articles and pictures in a newspaper must meet the Miller test’s constitutional standard of obscenity in order for the publisher or the distributor to be prosecuted for obscenity. Nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene...

  • The definition of obscenity differs from culture to culture, between communities within a single culture, and also between individuals within those communities… Many cultures have produced laws to define what is considered to be obscene and censorship is often used to try to suppress or control material that is obscene under these definitions.”

3 comments:

  1. Trivilising of news is not just in India alone. it has happened in every country even in US. Look at the US TV channels and newspapers. meaning of obscenity has changed now and media is only reflecting it.

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  2. Kerala Geek (Chacko)Dec 15, 2006, 10:37:00 AM

    The primary question here is "what is obscene?". Something which is perfectly acceptable to you may not be acceptable to me or to somebody else!

    An imposition of a blanket ban on the publication of certain photographs and news items etc. will lead to a situation where the newspaper will be publishing material which caters only to children and adolescents and the adults will be deprived of reading their share of their entertainment which can be permissible under the normal norms of decency in any society. Sometimes wonder at the kind of intelligent perspective supreme court judges have over issues brought before it!

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  3. Rahul: It's a two-way process. One, media reflects the society. And, two, the society imitates the media or the media sets the agenda for the society.

    Chacko: I am sorry, your comment got deleted by mistake and I am not able publish it again. I have copy-pasted it here, so the link to your blog has gone. Sorry about that.

    Regarding your point-- This is where free society comes in. It gives every one -- the conservative and the liberal -- the option. Personally one may have issues about the extent of obscinity, but on the whole one can't object since a free and democratic society has opitons and personally he/she has a choice to pick her choice. The SC highlighted this point.

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