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Press Council Censure Order Effectively Stopping Ads In Hindustan Times Newspaper": Delhi High Court Stays Order

Sparsh Upadhyay
5 March 2021 4:39 PM GMT
Press Council Censure Order Effectively Stopping Ads In Hindustan Times Newspaper: Delhi High Court Stays Order
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The Delhi High Court on Tuesday (02nd March) stayed a communication issued by the Press Council of India (PCI) to the Government Departments, which had effectively barred all Government agencies from placing advertisements in the newspapers owned by Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd. The Bench of Justice Prathiba M. Singh was hearing the plea of Petitioner (Hindustan Media Ventures...

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The Delhi High Court on Tuesday (02nd March) stayed a communication issued by the Press Council of India (PCI) to the Government Departments, which had effectively barred all Government agencies from placing advertisements in the newspapers owned by Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd.

The Bench of Justice Prathiba M. Singh was hearing the plea of Petitioner (Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd.) challenging PCI's order, through which, in effect, the petitioner was "censured".

This Order was issued as allegedly the Petitioner failed to clarify that the content printed is an advertisement, which is a requirement as per clause 2(xxvi) of the Norms of Journalistic conduct framed by PCI.

Petitioner's submission

The Counsel for the Petitioner contended that the word "ADVT" does appear in very small font size and print in the said advertisement.

He further submitted that a similar advertisement had also appeared in Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran and no action was taken by the Press Council against them.

It was also argued that the order of the Press Council was beyond the powers contemplated under Section 14 of the Press Council Act and was also arbitrary

Court's observations

The Court perused the impugned communication wherein the Press Council had asked for an Action Taken Report from the State as well as Central Government Departments, thereby giving the impression that Government agencies cannot place any advertisements in the Petitioners' newspapers.

Although, the Court noted that this direction was not contained in the main part of the impugned order.

Further, the Court issued notice to the Press Council of India as also the Information and Public Relations Department, Haldwani, Uttarakhand.

Further, the Court remarked,

"If the intention of the impugned order and communication is to stop all Government advertising in the Petitioners' newspapers, the proportionality of such an order would be required to be examined by this Court inasmuch as there is no time limit fixed as to for what period the advertising would have to be stopped by the Government Departments".

Significantly, the Court also opined,

"The ramifications of the impugned communication can be quite detrimental to the financial health of the publication, if all government advertising is directed to be stopped, due to an order of `Censure' passed by the Press Council. Ld. Counsel for the Petitioner submits that such an order would also be violative of Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India."

Accordingly, the direction by PCI to the Government Departments for taking action and submitting an action taken report was stayed by the Court.

Lastly, the Court directed the Union of India to seek instructions as to whether any advertising has been stopped qua the Petitioner's newspaper or not and revert with the said instructions on the next date of hearing.

The matter has been listed for further hearing on 22nd April 2021.

Case title - Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd. v. Press Council of India & Ors. [W.P.(C) 2733/2021]

Click Here To Download Order

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