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P&H HC issues notice in plea challenging Karnal District Adminisration's gag on dissemination of news via social media amid COVID-19

The High Court on Monday admitted a petition moved by a news medium aggrieved by the ban on the dissemination of news via digital media, ostensibly to curb the spread of fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has admitted a plea challenging a Karnal District administration order that curbs the dissemination of news via social media amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has also stayed the operation of the administrative order insofar as it applies to the petitioner before it. News outlet, Samachar Express Broadcasting had challenged the order as being an unreasonable impediment of the right to free speech.

Justice Sudip Ahluwalia, while admitting the plea, notes that the restrictions on speech were ostensibly to shield against the spread of false or incorrect information about COVID-19.

In their plea, the petitioner submits that the order's 'gag' on free speech is "unreasonable" because it fails to specify the objective of preventing the spread of fake news about the coronavirus disease.

Instead, the petitioners raised a grievance that an absolute bar has been imposed on any kind of news, even if not related to COVID-19 pandemic, directly or indirectly.

While exempting the petitioners from the applicability of the order for the present, the Court also direct that the news outlet ground its COVID-19 reportage on data from the "Official Portal of the State/Central Government, as the case may be."

The case is expected to next be taken up next on August 14, 2020.

Earlier this month, the High Court had issued notice in a plea challenging a similar administrative order issued by the Sonepat District administration. This plea is also due to be taken up next on August 14.

Senior Advocate Akshay Bhan is appearing with Advocate Amandeep S Talwar for the petitioners in the latest plea, while Advocate Sudhir Nar and Additional Advocate General Rajesh Gaur accepted notice on behalf of the State of Haryana.

Read the Interim Order dated July 20 here:

Samachar Express Broadcasting News Pvt. Ltd. and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors. - Interim Order dated July 20, 2020.pdf
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