Newspapers, news agencies do not perform public function: Delhi HC

Rejects plea by an AFP employee against racial discrimination by employer

Published - June 12, 2022 07:33 pm IST - New Delhi

The Delhi High Court has reiterated that a newspaper or a press agency engaged in the dissemination of news cannot be viewed as performing a ‘public function’.

Justice Yashwant Varma made the observation while rejecting the plea of an employee of a French news agency ‘Agence France Presse’ (AFP), alleging racial discrimination and harassment by his employer.

Prakash Singh, AFP’s chief photographer in India, contended in his plea that he was discriminated against by the employer because of his colour. Urging the High Court to act on his complaint, Mr. Singh argued that ‘Agence France Presse’ has been constituted by an Act of Parliament of France, and “clearly performs a public function”.

Justice Varma, however, declined to entertain the plea saying it was “not maintainable”.

“While it may be true that the second respondent (AFP) had been constituted by an Act by the Parliament of France, it becomes relevant to note that a newspaper or an agency engaged in the dissemination of news cannot be viewed as performing a public function,” the court said.

The Bench further said, “The expression ‘public function’ and ‘public duty’ have been understood to be those which are akin to functions performed by the State in its sovereign capacity.” It noted that the contract of service between Mr. Singh and the news agency was not imbued with any “statutory flavour”.

Justice Varma relied on a 2005 Supreme Court judgment where the Supreme Court had said that “a writ of mandamus or the remedy under Article 226 (power of high courts to issue appropriate directions) is pre-eminently a public law remedy and is not generally available as a remedy against private wrongs”.

The top court had stated that Article 226 is used for enforcement of various rights of the public or to compel public/statutory authorities to discharge their duties and to act within their bounds. “It may be used to do justice when there is wrongful exercise of power or a refusal to perform duties... However, the scope of mandamus is limited to enforcement of public duty,” it had said.

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