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F1 racing coverage: Order against The Hindu stayed

The Madras High Court granted on April 15 an interim stay of an order passed against The Hindu under the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003. The order was passed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare restraining The Hindu from publishing photographs of Formula One races on the ground that it amounted to publication of pictures containing names of any cigarette brand, and that section 5 of the Tobacco Act prohibited direct and indirect advertisement of cigarette products.

In the writ petition, The Hindu has contended, inter alia, that such an order was a clear restriction upon the freedom of the press to report and cover factual incidents; that the order failed to distinguish an advertisement from a news report; and that the order was not in keeping with the actual realities of covering a sporting event like a Formula One race where cars and racing overalls of drivers may contain brand names of cigarettes.

The Tobacco Act, which came into effect from May 1, 2004, had as its object the prohibition of advertisement and regulation of trade and commerce of cigarettes and tobacco products. Section 5 of the Act provides, among other things, that no person having control over a medium shall cause to be advertised cigarettes or any other tobacco products through that medium. News coverage of a Formula One race, according to the Ministry, would fall within the ambit of section 5. The stay granted by Justice K. P. Sivasubramaniam will be of interest to many newspapers whose coverage of the Formula One races has been, or can be affected, by the action taken by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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