Right to Information Can’t Be Restricted on Mere Apprehensions of Transmission of Corona through Newspapers: Madras HC Dismisses Plea Against Exemption Granted To The Print Media

On Thursday, while dismissing a petition filed against exemption given to the print media from the nationwide lockdown, the Madras High Court held that "merely apprehensions" that newspapers may carry the Corona virus cannot be the grounds for restricting the citizens 'right to information.

A bench comprising of Justice N. Kirubakaran and Justice R. Hemalatha observed, "Mere apprehension or least probability cannot be a ground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it would amount to violation of the Fundamental Rights, of not only the publisher, editor but also the readers, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India."

The observation was made in the context of numerous research reports submitted by the Petitioner suggesting that paper, particularly newspapers, may be "potential carriers" of the Corona virus.

The Petitioner submitted that there is a risk of transmitting virus if newspapers are published and delivered to the readers; there is a possibility of spreading virus, even if the paper delivery boy is infected with the corona virus.  In support of his arguments, he relied on a report called "SARS-CoV-2 Aerosol and Surface Stability Compared to SARS-CoV-1" published in The New England Journal of Medicine, stating that the virus could survive for 4-5 days in the newspaper.

Dispelling all such notions, the bench pointed out that all such researches were "preliminary" in nature and as such, these speculations are not conclusive. It observed,

"It is evident from the records and also from the Media that spreading of virus through Newspapers or through Paper surface is not that much extensive. As rightly pointed out by the learned Additional Advocate General the research in this field is very limited and minimal. When the researches have not been extensively made and conclusively it has not been decided, based on preliminary researches and in the absence of statistics available, if the Print Media is going to be restrained, then it would go against the fundamental rights of the Citizens of the Country"

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