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    Case Law: R. Rajagopal @ R.R. Gopal & Ors. V. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. (1995)- Know Here

    This Case Law on “R. Rajagopal Alias R.R. Gopal & Ors. V. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. (1995)”; is written by Kashish Goyal. She is Content Writer & Legal Researcher at Legal Thirst.

    Right To Publish An Autobiography Or Freedom Of Press Vis A Vis Right To Privacy Of The Citizen And Also Focuses On Right To Comment On The Conduct Of The Public Officials”

    PETITIONER R. Rajagopal alias R.R. Gopal and Another 
    RESPONDENT State of Tamil Nadu and Others 
    CITATION :AIR 1995 SC 264: (1994) 6 SCC 632 : (1995) 2 SCJ 86
    CASE NUMBER Writ Petition (C) no. 422 of 1994 
    COURT:The Supreme Court of India
    DATE OF DECISION :7-10-1994
    JUDGES :B.P. Jeevan Reddy and Suhas C. Sen, JJ
    STATUTE :THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
    ARTICLESArticle 19 (1) (a)- Freedom of Speech and Expression  Article 21- Right to life and Personal Liberty 
    Case Brief Facts

    Introduction

    The Concept of the freedom of press is not a new concept as it was already accepted in the past. In Article 19 the word freedom of press is not expressly provided; but it is included in the Article 19 (1) (a). It means the freedom from the interference from the authority with any content of the publication. Every citizen has the right to express his views in public which is essential for the state. In case when something is published, no restraints should be placed on this. 

    Background

    There were two petitioners in this case, one is the editor and publisher of the weekly magazine named “Nakkeeran” in Tamil Nadu and other is associate editor of the above magazine. Also there were three respondent i.e. State of Tamil Nadu, Inspector General of Prisons and Superintendent of Prisons (Central Prison), Salem, Tamil Nadu. The Petitioners seek for the appropriate order under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to restrain the respondent from interfering with the publication of the life story of the prisoner named “Auto Shankar”. 

    Auto Shankar was charged with the six murders and sentenced to death by the Session Judge, Chenglepat and which was further confirmed by the Madras High Court. He appealed to the Supreme Court but the appeal was dismissed. His mercy petition to the president is still pending.

    In his autobiography, He wrote 300 pages about the relation between the prisoner and several IAS, IPS and some who were his partners in several crimes means the public officials were implicated in criminal activities with the prisoner who is convicted of murder. 

    Facts

    After he wrote his autobiography, he handed over this to his wife with the permission of the jail authorities to further deliver to his advocate “Chandrasekharan” and requested the advocate to ensure him that the autobiography will be published in the magazine of the petitioner named “Nakkeeran” for which the petitioner agreed. Auto Shankar also stated his desire through the written letter to the advocate and the first petitioner. 

    Before the publication, the petitioner announced the date and stated that a magazine would come out about the life history of the Auto Shankar. This resulted in the fear among the various police officials who were afraid that their link with the condemned prisoner would be exposed[1]

    After this, the officials forced the petitioner to write letters to the second respondent and the petitioner to request that the life story should not be published. The Inspector General of prisons (second respondent) wrote a letter to the first petitioner the Autobiography which is written is false or the statement which states that the autobiography which is handed over with the due permission of the prison authorities was also false. 

    Issues

    • Whether the freedom of press which is guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) also gives right to the press to publish the unauthorized writing of the life history of the person?
    • If unauthorized writing is published, does it infringe the right to privacy?
    • Whether public officials can impose a restraint on the press to not publish such an autobiography?
    • Whether such writing amounts to defamation?
    • Whether one citizen of the country can stop another citizen from writing the life story?
    • Whether the government has the power to put a restraint on the press to prevent such publication which seems defamatory to the officials?

    Judgement

    • Right to privacy is a fundamental right as it is implicit in the article 21 i.e. Right to life and personal liberty. No person can publish anything without his consent. But there is an exception to it i.e. if the publication includes the matter which is related to public records then the right to privacy no longer subsists. 
    • There is also one independent rule , where the publication is based upon the statements which are not true unless the officials establish that the publication was made reckless disregard with truth. In that case, it will be enough for the press to prove that he acted after a reasonable verification of the facts, it is not necessary to prove what is written in the publication. 
    • Public officials cannot brings suit for damages in case of defamation when they are performing in their official duties unless and until they proves that publication was false[2].
    • But if the publication is proved false, then the defendant will be liable for the damages.
    • Any Government or other institutions cannot maintain a suit for damages for defaming the local organs and other authorities. There is no law which empowers the officials to impose a restriction on the press or the media.
    • The respondent also cannot institute the proceedings to protect the right to privacy in the absence of any evidence. 

    Held

    • The petitioners have the right to publish the autobiography of the Auto Shankar as it is a part of the public record even without his consent or authorization.
    • If the petitioners go beyond this, they would be liable for damages as it violates the right to privacy.
    • The State or officials also cannot restrain the publication.
    • The court also laid down that Right to privacy is implicit in the Article 21 i.e. Right to life and personal liberty. 
    • The Supreme Court also held that nothing can be published of his own privacy, family, marriage or education without the person’s consent. 

    Conclusion

    Freedom of press is an essential right which should be upheld by the court as it serves public interest at large. It is an important right which must be protected in such a democratic society. It is the primary duty of the court to make invalid the laws which are contrary to this. On the other hand, it is also the duty of the press to maintain a balance between the right to privacy of the citizen and right to information of the public. Freedom of press and the information must coexist with the freedom of speech and expression. There is no right in India which is absolute, there are some reasonable restrictions which should be put on the rights. 


    [1] Lexis Nexis, Universal’s Landmark Judgements. Thirteenth Edition , 2019

    [2] Case Study on R. Rajagopal alias R.R. Gopal and Another vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Others (1995) http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/435/A-Case-Study-on-R.-Rajagopal-alias-R.R.-Gopal-and-Another-Vs.-State-of-Tamil-Nadu.html


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