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Indian Case Summary

Ajay Goswami vs Union Of India & Ors on 12 December, 2006 – Case Summary

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In the case of Ajay Goswami vs Union Of India & Others on 12 December 2006, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with a significant question of law and public importance concerning the fundamental right of citizens, particularly minors, to freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The case was presided over by Dr. AR. Lakshmanan and Tarun Chatterjee.

Facts of the Case

The petitioner, Ajay Goswami, a lawyer by profession, raised concerns about the balance between the freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the newspaper industry and the protection of children from harmful and disturbing materials. The respondents included the Union of India, a statutory body, leading national daily newspapers, and news agencies.

Goswami argued that the freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the press was not balanced with the protection of children from harmful and disturbing materials. He requested the Court to direct the authorities to strike a reasonable balance between the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the press and the duty of the Government, being a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to protect minors from abuse, exploitation, and harmful effects of such expression.

Issues Raised

The petitioner raised several issues, including whether the material in newspapers was genuinely harmful to minors, whether minors had any independent right enforceable under Article 32 of the Constitution, and the maintainability of the petition. Goswami argued that newspapers were publishing sex-oriented material that may not be obscene but still catered to the prurient interest of minors. He also contended that minors had a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a), Article 21 read with Article 39(f) of the Constitution, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Court’s Observations

The Court observed that the petitioner was not seeking to restrain the freedom of the press or any censorship prior to the publication of an article or other material. Instead, he was seeking regulation at the receiving end, not at the source. The Court also noted that all sex-oriented material was not always obscene, indecent, or immoral. The effect of words or written material should always be judged from the standards of a reasonable, strong-minded, firm, and courageous man, i.e., an average adult human being.

The Court also noted that the right of the minor flowed from Article 19(1)(a), Article 21 read with Article 39(f) of the Constitution of India, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Court observed that the Indian Penal Code on obscenity grew out of English Law, which made the court the guardian of public morals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the petitioner requested the Court to issue detailed guidelines to all newspapers regarding the material that may not be suitable for minors or which may require parents or teachers’ discretion. He also proposed that newspapers should have a self-regulatory system to assess the publication in view of those guidelines. If the newspapers published any material categorized in the guidelines, the newspaper should be packed in some different form and should convey in bold on the front of the newspapers the existence of such material. This would give discretion to the parents to instruct the news vendor whether to deliver such a newspaper or not. In the alternative, he suggested a Committee be appointed to suggest ways and means for regulating the access of minors to adult-oriented sexual, titillating, or prurient material.