The Madras High Court on Thursday dispelled all notions with respect to newspapers being potential carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 and dismissed a writ petition filed against exemption granted to the print media from the nationwide lockdown.
Justices N. Kirubakaran and R. Hemalatha accepted the submission of Additional Advocate General P.H. Arvindh Pandian that there was no conclusive scientific evidence yet to prove that newspapers could be a source of spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Referring to the opinion of a virologist that there was least probable chance of newspapers being carriers of the pathogen, the court said, “there cannot be any apprehension in the mind of people that the virus can spread through newspapers.
“Even otherwise there are methods by which the spread of the virus could be prevented either by ironing the newspapers using the iron box before reading them or washing the hands with soap after reading the newspapers.
“Mere apprehension or least probability of the spread of the virus cannot be a ground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it would amount to violation of fundamental rights of not only the publishers and editors but also the readers.”
Though the litigant, T. Ganesh Kumar, 31, an employee of a private logistics company, had relied upon random studies conducted in Germany and the U.K., the judges pointed out that even those countries had not banned publishing of newspapers.
“More research is needed to establish that the virus could spread easily through newspapers. When such is a position based on these preliminary researches and in the absence of sufficient data, the prayer sought for by the petitioner cannot be granted,” the court observed.
Authoring the verdict, Justice Kirubakaran stressed the importance of newspapers in a democracy and quoted former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s famous lines: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The judges went on to state that a vibrant media was an asset to democracy and it was a watchdog that brings out the misdeeds and corrupt practices at the highest level in the administration.
“When such is the importance of newspapers, any attempt to restrict or prohibit their publication would amount to muzzling of independence of media. What is expected is only the news and not the views of the publisher.
“News as it is has to be brought to the readers and not the views of the publishers or his ideology. Though they are entitled to put forth their ideology, people want only the news at the stands. Mixing of views and ideology should be avoided,” the Bench concluded.