Q. Explain the right to freedom of speech and expression with the help of decided cases.



“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”.

-John Milton

Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that, all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The philosophy behind this Article lies in the Preamble of the Constitution, where a solemn resolve is made to secure to all its citizen, liberty of thought and expression. The exercise of this right is, however, subject to reasonable restrictions for certain purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.


Essential elements of Freedom of Speech

I.                     This right is available only to a citizen of India and not to the person of other nationalities i.e., foreign nationals.

II.                   The freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution includes the right to express oneself through any medium, such as in words of writing, printing, gesture, etc.

III.                 This right is, however, not absolute and it allows Government to frame laws to impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality and contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.

IV.                Such a right ought to be implemented as much by the action of the State as by its inaction. Thus, failure on the part of the State to guarantee the freedom of right and expression to all its citizens would also constitute a violation of Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution.


To understand this concept efficiently, we have to divide it in the following heads:

A.      Freedom of Press

Freedom of press includes all types of freedom, like: freedom to publish, freedom to circulate and freedom to access.


Landmark Cases, which shape the dimensions of this right:

I. Sakal Papers v. Union of India:

Facts: The petitioner was the owner of a private limited company, ‘Sakal’, which published daily and weekly newspapers in Marathi. This newspaper used to play a leading part in the dissemination of news and in molding public opinion. They claimed that their net circulation of copies in Maharashtra and Karnataka on weekdays was 52,000 and on Sunday it was 56,000. However, the Central Government passed the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956, later, the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960. Because of that order, the government fixed the maximum number of pages that could be published by the newspapers. So, the petitioner filed a case challenging the constitutionality of that Act. 

Judgment: The court held that Section 3(1) of the Act was unconstitutional and also an order made under the same would be unconstitutional.


II. Indian Express v. Union of India:

In this case it was established after observing that the term “freedom of press” is not used under Article 19 in its language but it is contained in the form of its essence within Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, and hence, there can not be any interference with the freedom of press. it was held that Freedom of Press includes freedom of publication, freedom of circulation and freedom against pre-censorship.


The other landmark cases includes:

Romesh Thaper vs State of Madras, Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi and Union of India v/s Association for Democratic Reforms.


B.      Freedom of Commercial speech or Freedom of advertisement:

In Tata Press Ltd. Vs. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., the Supreme Court held that a commercial advertisement or commercial speech was also a part of the freedom of speech and expression, which would be restricted only within the limitation of Article 19(2).


C.      Right to Broadcast

Ministry of Information vs. Cricket Association of Bengal:

In this case, it was held that the live broadcasting of a cricket match is allowed and comes under the purview of right to freedom of free speech and expression.


D.     Issue of Prior censorship:

Abbas v. Union of India:

It is the first case in which the issue of the prior censorship of films came into consideration by the supreme court of India. The petitioner’s film was not given ‘U’ certificate so he challenged the validity of censorship under the criteria as it violated his fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression. The court, however, held that the motion picture stirs emotions more deeply than any other form of art. Hence pre-censorship was valid and was justified under Article 19(2).


Grounds of Restrictions

Clause 2 of Article 19 provides for certain restrictions on right to freedom of speech:

1. Security of the State

2. Friendly relations with foreign States

3. Public order

4. Decency and Morality

5. Contempt of court

6. Defamation

7. Incitement to an offence, and

8. Sovereignty and integrity of India.


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