Staff Reporter

Court also throws out curbs on news items displaying cigarettes, other tobacco products

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Friday struck down the ban on smoking scenes in films and carrying of news items displaying cigarettes and other tobacco products by newspapers, saying the provisions dealing with the two issues were beyond the competency of the powers conferred by the anti-smoking Act and against the mandate of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul gave this relief to the film industry and the print media on two separate petitions by film director Mahesh Bhatt and Kasturi & Sons, publishers of the The Hindu and other publications.

Mr. Bhatt had challenged Rule 4 (Prohibition of Advertisements of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products) of The Cigarettes & Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade, Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003. He submitted that the Rule would amount to a gag order resulting in the curtailment of freedom of expression and the right to communicate and inform the public, and it was beyond the powers conferred under the Act.

Kasturi & Sons had challenged a show-cause notice issued for carrying a photograph in The Hindu of a driver in a Formula One race where there was a logo on the jacket of the driver of a cigarette company which was construed to be a commercial advertisement.

Quashing the notice, Mr. Justice Kaul said: “It was mere a reproduction of a news item in Formula One race, and Rule 4 (8) of the Act does not prevent the press from publishing news items and dissemination of ideas.”

“The coverage of news is of paramount importance in any free and democratic society,” the court observed.

“I am of the considered view that the restriction placed on the newspapers in terms of Rule (8) of the Act is violative of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution as it seeks to create a distinction between the electronic and print media and is an unreasonable classification in terms of Article 14 as it imposes an unreasonable restriction on the press,” the court ruled.

As for the depiction of smoking scenes in films, the court observed that films reflect social realities, and there are several happenings in society like sexual assault and theft which are undesirable but are shown in movies.

“Directors of films should not have multifarious authorities breathing down their necks when indulging in creative work,” the Bench observed.

“Rules 4 (6), 4 (6A), 4 (6B) and 4 (8) are held to be ultra vires as well as violative of Article 19 and accordingly struck down being unconstitutional as they will clearly impinge on the valuable rights granted by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, apart from the fact that they are outside the ambit of the authority conferred under the Act,” the Bench said.