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Blocking newspaper delivery amid coronavirus lockdown an offence, say legal experts

NEW DELHI: Blocking of newspapers by resident welfare and gated housing societies has raised questions on freedom of speech and expression, with many legal experts terming the action as illegal.

Pointing out that newspapers come under essential services, Supreme Court advocate Saurabh Kirpal said, “Restrictions on distribution of newspapers has no scientific or legal basis. Government guidelines clearly exempt the print media from the lockdown. In fact, in these times of fake WhatsApp forwards, dissemination of correct information by the print media is even more essential. Even the SC in its recent order directed the media to carry the official version of events so that citizens may be made aware of true facts. An attempt to stop the delivery of newsapers undermines this direction. RWAs doing that are acting with excess of authority coupled with lack of knowledge. Since newspapers fall under essential services, it should be delivered freely,” he said.

Terming the distribution of newspapers a constitutionally protected right, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said, “Freedom of speech is freedom of informed speech. The SC has consistently protected the right of the Press to publish and even included the supply of newsprint as part of that right. Mere printing without distribution is not publication. The right to distribute newspapers to willing customers should be constitutionally protected.”

SC advocate and activist Virag Gupta said, “The SC has issued directions to all the states to curb the menace of fake news. The government has categorised the distribution of newspapers as an essential services. Any obstruction in the distribution of newspapers not only impedes the dissemination of information but also constitutes an offence under section 5 and 6 of the Essential Services Maintenance Act 1981.”

For many, reading the newspaper daily is an addiction. Advocate DK Mahant said, “Since school days, I am an addict of newspapers. Accessing the news online on cellphone/tab is now the preferred mode but getting the hard copy has its own charm.”

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