The case of Bennett Coleman v. Union of India signifies the incumbent role of the press in mustering the Indian democracy and its vibrant Constitution.

The case of Bennett Coleman v. Union of India signifies the incumbent role of the press in mustering the Indian democracy and its vibrant Constitution. The Supreme Court of India, in this case, held that the freedom of the press is an important facet of the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The expression “Freedom of Press” signifies that everyone has a right to print and publish without...

The case of Bennett Coleman v. Union of India signifies the incumbent role of the press in mustering the Indian democracy and its vibrant Constitution. The Supreme Court of India, in this case, held that the freedom of the press is an important facet of the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

The expression “Freedom of Press” signifies that everyone has a right to print and publish without interference from the general public authority or the other state. The press can assert no extra privileges than what is just open to a common citizen. And thus, the right of freedom of the press is subject to the reasonable restrictions laid down in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

Citation: AIR 1973 SC 106

Quorum: 5 Judge Bench

Bench: Hon’ble Chief Justice Mr. S.M. Sikri, Justice A.N Ray, Justice P. Jaganmohan Reddy, Justice Kurian Mathew, Justice. Hameedullah Beg.

Date of Judgement: 30/10/1972

Brief Facts

The petitioners were employed as media conglomerates involved in the publishing of newspapers. The petitioners legally challenged the limitations levied under the “Import Control Order 1955” on the import of newspapers, and the newspapers extended the same way under the 1962 Newsprint Order.

In addition, the validity of the essential Newsprint and News Pint Management Order 1962 policy was legally questioned in 1972-73. Since these two measures placed additional limitations based on four incumbent characteristics:-

  • a replacement newspaper couldn’t be started by any establishment which owns quite two newspapers if a minimum of one among which is daily;
  • the utmost no of newspapers published shall not exceed 10%.
  • no of a newspaper might not be increasing, quite 20% that are under ten pages;
  • the interchangeability of newsprint had not allowed between different editions of an equivalent paper or distinct newspapers of an equivalent establishment and agencies.
  • The government contended that by doing this, the reputed or large newspaper agencies' monopoly would find themselves within the market, and on the other hand, it might be beneficial for the tiny newspaper agencies to grow within the market.
  • Although there are tons of massive newspaper agencies, the maximum portion of newspapers contain advertisements only. The news limits were very low within the newspaper.
  • So at that point, it had benefitted by reducing the page limit that the large newspaper agencies need to publish their advertisement within the limit of 10 pages and, this is able to not be affected within the publication of stories.

However, even under the quota cap, the petitioners were not allowed to establish peace in circulation, etc., under the newspaper policies. In violation of Article 14 and Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, this was legally questioned. The respondents argued that as a result of businesses not relishing fundamental rights, the petitions were not maintainable, the square measure was provided solely to natural citizens.

The respondents also argued that Article 358, the “emergency powers” clause of the Constitution, precluded any opposition on the basis of elementary rights.


  • The preliminary question was whether or not the petitioners were firms that may contravene basic rights.
  • Whether Article 358 of the Indian Constitution was a moratorium to any challenge by the petitioner’s facet on the violations of elementary rights?
  • Whether the restriction obligatory on newspaper import below the 1955 Order was a violation of Article. 19(1) (a) of the Constitution?
  • Whether the newspaper Policy fall among Section 5 (1) of the Import, management Order 1955 was valid or not?
  • Whether Clauses 3 and 3A of Section 3 of the Newspaper Order, 1962 were offensive of Article 14 and Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution?


It was argued that pursuant to Article 19(l), the restrictions on the number of pages, circulation, and growth of newspapers were unreasonably and arbitrary under Article 19. It was argued that restrictions on the size and circulation of newspapers constituted a direct infringement of freedom of speech and expression.

The government’s refusal to allow the newspaper to increase the circulation of their daily papers within the quota of the newsprint permitted was carried out. It was argued that this was unjustified since it should be for the newspapers concerned to decide whether or not to raise the circulation of pages without asking for an extra quota.

The policy of 1972-73 authorized a 20% increase only for daily newspapers of less than 10 pages. It was argued that these were discriminatory quota newspapers with 10 or more pages and thus infringed Article 14. It was argued that there was a disparity in the entitlement of newspapers with an average of more than 10 pages compared to newspapers with 10 pages or less was based on no reasonable classification.

It was argued that the 10-page limit caused a decrease in the circulation of newspapers and thus resulted in a financial loss to them, and that was a negation of the constitutional right granted by Article 19(l)(a) since there was a restriction on the ability of newspapers to be able to communicate and disseminate knowledge that was essential and fundamental to democracy.

In effect, the argument was that, in reality, the government was controlling newspapers through a subtle strategy of print power.

In the agreement on newsprint, it was denounced as being based on factors that were beyond the meaning of the law by which the allocation was made, i.e. the Import Control Act. Under the Act, the policy should apply only to imports and not to output, control, distribution of newspapers, etc. The policy was also contested on the ground that, in nature it was merely an administrative instruction and had no power of law.

The dominant statement urged on the government side in favour of the newspaper policy was that it did not deal “directly and immediately” with the right referred to in Article 19, and the limitations’ incidental ‘to the fixation of the quota for newspapers did not constitute a constraint’ incidental’ to the abridgement of the freedom of expression and speech.

It was urged by the government to assess whether or not a limitation was fair, not the ‘effect’ or ‘product’ of the newsprint policy, but whether the policy ‘directly and immediately’ dealt with the fundamental right in question, i.e. Article 19(1) (a).

The test, it was argued, was the ‘subject matter’ rather than the ‘effect or consequence’ of the statute. The government claimed that ‘rationing of an imported product and equal distribution of newsprint’ are the ‘subject matter’ of the import policy and not interfering with the freedom of speech.


On the merits, the Court pointed out that freedom of the press was a necessary part of Article 19(1)(a) and that there was also an orthogonal absence of an associate degree defining certain freedoms as a special class. The press was widely considered to be a vital part of freedom of speech.

The Court jointly found that the scarcity of paper could well be resolved by fixing the quotas. Direct intervention in terms of page limits and alternative rules, however, was not even feasible. The page cap suggested that newspapers would either lose economic profitability due to a drop in ads or be forced to minimize news content.

This could limit freedom of speech as a result of a decline in circulation due to accumulated prices in the initial case and a quantitative constraint on the material in the second case.

The Court found that press freedom had both quantitative and qualitative components and, thus, that quantitative constraint had deep-rooted limits on freedom of speech. Since they weren’t even on the premise of a shortage of paper, they might not be thought of to be cheap restrictions.

The Court held that the paper Policy of 1972-73 was unconstitutional. However, the paper Order and Import management Order were thought of to not be the supply of those restrictions and weren’t smitten down.

Beg, J.

Beg, J., during a concurrence, observed that the Newsprint Policy of 1972-73 was outside the scope of the Import Control Order, which provided just for fixing of quotas and no further interference. Therefore, the question of whether the restrictions were reasonable didn’t arise because the government action had no legal basis in the first place.

Mathew, J.

Mathew, J., during a dissent, it was noted that there was no clear restriction of content that did not suggest an abridgement of the freedom of speech by a cap on the number of pages. He argued that monitoring the newspaper and regulating its distribution was important to ensure that it was used effectively.

Insofar as it made newsprint utilization efficient and prevented monopoly by a couple of newspapers, the policy expanded instead of abridged freedom of speech and expression. He disagreed with the bulk judgment and held that the policy wasn’t unconstitutional.

Ray, J.

Ray, J. delivered the opinion of the court. As a preliminary question, the Supreme Court determined that the petitions were reparable. The fact that the petitioners were firms wasn’t a bar to awarding relief for violating the rights of shareholders and editorial employees (who were conjointly petitioners).

Further, the bar below Article 358 failed to apply to laws passed before the proclamation of emergency, and, therefore, the newspaper policy can be challenged as a continuation of the previous year’s policy and relevant orders.

While acting below Section 398 and section 402 of the Businesses Act of 1956, the court has ample jurisdiction and extremely wide powers to pass such orders and provides directions because it thinks it is suited to come through the thing and the same won’t be offensive of section 255.

It was held that the legality of the Newspaper Control Order, which set the minimum number of pages in the newspaper, was legally questioned. The Supreme Court eventually barred the News Paper Control Order because it specifically affected the provision of the right to freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution but not a fair restriction guaranteed under Article 19 (2) of the Indian constitution.

Bennett Coleman v. Union of India: Case Analysis

The Supreme Court of India acknowledged the petitioners’ arguments that the right to freedom of speech and expression was affected by such limitations and legislation on newspapers. Under the Import Order 1955, the petitioners contested the limitations on the importation of newsprint; the regulation of sale, acquisition, and use of newsprint under Newsprint Order 1962; and the direct control of newspaper size and distribution under the 1972-73 Newsprint Policy.

The Court found that the Newsprint Policy was illegal because a lack of newsprint did not warrant its quantitative limitations because the freedom of the press included both qualitative and quantitative dimensions; the Newsprint Order and Import Control Order were not struck down.

The Court referred to the following precedents while giving the Judgement:

Indian Express Newspaper. Ltd. v. Union of India[1]

The apex court held that “the protection of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution cannot be denied to any commercial advertisement simply because an entrepreneur issues it.”

Sakal Paper Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India[2]

The Court noted that, as per the Daily Newspaper (price and page) Order, 1960. The central government was allowed by this Act to control the number of pages in newspapers according to the price paid.

The court held that the Act and the Order were null and void because Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution was violated and Article 19 (2) was not saved. “it has been further held that the right to freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of restricting on the business activities of a citizen."

Prabha Dutt & Ors v. Union of India[3]

In this case, the petitioner was the chief reporter for the Hindustan Times. She filed a written petition of “Quo Warranto before the SC to direct the Superintendent of the Tihar Jail to allow her to interview two convicted persons who were sentenced to death.

Whereas this writ court again considers that the right to freedom of speech and expression conferred by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which also includes the right to freedom of the press, is not an absolute right, nor does it confer any right on the press, to have unrestricted access to means of subsistence”


[1] 1986 AIR 515, 1985 SCR (2) 287

[2] (AIR 1962 SC 305)

[3] 1982 AIR, 6 1982 SCR (1)1184

  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 12 March 2023 4:18 PM GMT
Eshanee Bhattacharya

Eshanee Bhattacharya

Eshanee is practicing in the areas of Corporate Commercial, Insolvency and Securities Law. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Securities Markets. (MNLU Mumbai)

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