The Madras High Court on Thursday dismissed a plea against the exemption granted to print media to continue operations during the countrywide lockdown, and rejected the contention that newspapers are potential carriers of the coronavirus, Live Law reported. The court held that steps to restrain the print media from publishing goes against the fundamental rights of the citizens.

The bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and R Hemalatha highlighted the lack of any conclusive scientific evidence yet to prove that newspapers could be a source of infection. Therefore, “mere apprehensions” cannot be a ground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it would amount to violation of the fundamental rights, of not only the publisher, editor but also the readers, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the court observed.

In the plea, virologist T Ganesh Kumar, cited various research conducted in Germany and the United Kingdom claiming that paper, and particularly newspapers, may be “potential carriers” of the coronavirus, according to The Hindu. The judges, however, pointed out that even those countries have not banned the publishing of newspapers.

The court cited the research study submitted by the virologist himself that stated the risk transmission through newspapers is the “least probable”. The court said, there cannot be “any apprehension in the mind of people that the virus can spread through newspapers”.

“More research is needed to establish that the virus could spread easily through newspapers,” the court observed. “When such is a position based on these preliminary researches and in the absence of sufficient data, the prayer sought for by the petitioner cannot be granted.”

The bench stressed the importance of newspapers in a democracy and ruled that a “vibrant media was an asset to democracy”. “When such is the importance of newspapers, any attempt to restrict or prohibit their publication would amount to muzzling of independence of media,” it added.

The Union health ministry on Friday morning said the total confirmed cases in India are 6,412. Out of the total cases in the country, 199 patients have died, and 5,709 are being treated.

Follow our live updates on the pandemic here