1. The Editor and the Printer of the Amrita Bazar Patrika have been called on to answer for what is alleged to be a contempt of the Court of the Civil Judge of Azamgarh contained in a contribution to the newspaper by its own Azamgarh correspondent. The report in question appeared in the issue of the newspaper of 3rd October 1945 and referred to a civil suit which had been begun by a firm of merchants of Azamgarh against (inter alios) a Tahsildar of the name of Manik Chand. The report ran as follows:
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT)
Azamgrah, 29th September : Rs. 5200 have been claimed in damages by the firm Gayaram Ramsarandas filed in the Court of the Civil Judge Mr. K.C. Dhawan against the Tahsildar, Mr. Manikohand. It will be recalled that the firm had been asked by the Tahsildar to pay Rs. 500 for the Victory Memorial Funds. The proprietors had already contributed Bs. 300 and declined to pay anything more. The firm's refusal infuriated the Tahsildar and he had the shop looked and sealed. The business of the firm therefore remained suspended. Proceedings were started in the District Magistrate's Court on the firm's application. The Tahsildar, however, stated that he never put up the seal and the lock and the District Magistrate, therefore, granted permission to the firm to resume business. But the District Magistrate's1 permission' was obtained a week after the locking of the shop by the Tahsildar and during this period the firm suffered considerably. Hence the suit.
2. We do not feel it necessary to relate at length the history of the events which led to the suit in question before the Civil Judge. It is sufficient to say that the firm of Gayaram Eamsarandas filed a plaint on 26th September 1945 against the Tahsildar among others claiming damages for trespass said to have been committed by the Tahsildar wrongfully entering upon and closing up their shop. On 3rd October when the news item in question appeared in the columns of the Amrita Bazar Patrika, the only steps taken in the suit beyond the filing of the plaint had been that an order had been made on 26th September by the Judge for the appointment of a Commissioner to view and report on the premises and a report had been filed by such Commissioner on 28th September. We are prepared to assume for the purpose of the proceedings now before us that it may well be material at the hearing of the suit against the tahsildar for the Judge who tries the case to consider, and take evidence on, the motive of the tahsildar in entering upon and closing up the plaintiff's shop (if he did in fact enter on it and close it up) and it may also be an issue in the suit whether the tahsildar did whatever he did do in the bona fide performance of his duty or for some other reason. The only other material point that we think it necessary to refer to is that in certain earlier issues of the newspaper and particularly in that of 27th September 1945, certain matter had appeared suggesting that persons, including shop-keepers', had been solicited by the tahsildar to give subscriptions to the Victory Memorial Funds then being raised. In the light of these facts we have examined the article of 3rd October. The only two passages in it which could be argued to give rise to any possible risk of prejudicing the fair trial of the case are, first, the one which says that it would be 'recalled' that the firm had been asked by the tahsildar to pay Rs. 500 for the Victory Memorial Funds, but, as they had already contributed Rs. 300, they had declined to pay anything more; and, secondly, the passage which says that : '...The firm's refusal infuriated the tahsildar and he had the shop locked and sealed....' These passages, as contained in the news item contributed to the newspaper by their Azamgarh correspondent do not in terms purport to be a summary only of the allegations in the case; but in form appear rather as statements of fact made by the newspaper correspondent. This is certainly unfortunate, since in fact they do no more than state the gravamen of the case against the tahsildar and in fact omit many other charges. It would probably have been better had the writer of the item made it quite clear that a suit had been brought against the tahsildar and that the allegations he alluded to formed part of the plaint, setting them out, not in the form of statements of fact of his own, but as extracts from the plaint. The respondent editor of the newspaper has now filed an affidavit on behalf of himself and the respondent printer in which, while he very properly accepts full responsibility for everything that appears in the paper, he expressly disclaims any intention to prejudice the fair trial of the case. The reason why this Court exercises a strict supervision over references by newspapers to pending proceedings before itself or its subordinate Courts is stated in the well-known passage to be found in the judgment of Wills J. who delivered the judgment of the Court of appeal consisting of Lord Alverstone C.J., Channell J. and himself in Rex v. Parke (1903) 2 K.B. 432. He said:.The reason why the publication of articles like those with which we have to deal is treated as a contempt of Court is because their tendency, and sometimes their object is to deprive the Court of the power of doing that which is the end for which it exists, namely, to administer justice duly, impartially, and with reference solely to the facts judicially brought before it. Their tendency is to reduce the Court which has to try the case to impotence, so far as the effectual elimination of prejudice and prepossession is concerned....
3. We have said above that in our view, the passages referred to above from the respondent's newspaper of 3rd October 1945 might have been expressed, and, indeed, should have been expressed, rather as representing the substance of the allegations made in the suit against the tahsildar than in a form in which they might conceivably be mistaken as statements of fact by the newspaper itself. But we certainly do not think that in this ease it was the object of the newspaper to deprive the Court of the power of administering due justice and we do not think that there was, in fact, any reasonable likelihood that the passages in question would have had that effect. In view of the timely disclaimer before us by the editor of any intention to prejudice a fair trial - a disclaimer which we readily accept - we do not feel that this is a case in which there is any necessity for this Court to exercise its powers of protecting its subordinate Court. We feel it proper, however, in general to remind those responsible in this Province for the production of newspapers, and particularly newspapers of the importance of the one with which we are now dealing, of the special responsibility which rests on them of seeing that everything is excluded from their columns in reference to pending cases, whether criminal or civil, which might possibly have the effect of prejudicing or prepossessing the mind of any judicial officer, juryman or potential witness who might be or become concerned with it. There will accordingly be no other order than that the present notice to show cause be discharged.