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Monday, May 29, 2023

SC exhibits double standards while dealing with FIRs against journalists?

The SC (Supreme Court) decisions to quash FIRs (First Information Report) in sedition cases against journalists seems to be dictated by considerations such as who the journalist is, what are his/her ideological leanings etc. The SC ordered quashing of FIR against Vinod Dua stating every journalist should be granted protection against prosecution under penal provisions of sedition, barring when his/her news report either incited violence or disturbed public peace. The “every”, however, excluded Arnab Goswami and Amish Devgan’s pleas and both journalists were asked to approach the HC.

In a 117-page judgment, a bench of Justices U.U. Lalit and Vineet Saran relied upon decision in Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar (1962), which upheld validity of sedition provision but with riders, to quash an FIR against senior journalist Vinod Dua registered on May 6, last year by Shimla police.

Dua was represented by senior advocate Vikash Singh along with advocates Varun Singh and Nitin Saluja.

Holding that every journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh case, the bench observed that a citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.

Citing the contents of the FIR lodged by a local BJP leader, the bench said statements that the Prime Minister had used deaths and terror attacks to garner votes were not made by Dua in the Talk Show. Also, on the content of Dua’s show on lockdown 2020, the bench noted: “The situation was definitely alarming around March 30, 2020, and as a journalist, if the petitioner showed some concern, could it be said that he committed offenses as alleged?”

The bench noted that Dua’s comments were certainly not made with the intent to incite people. “The petitioner was within the permissible limits laid down in the decision of this Court in Kedar Nath Singh,” said the top court.

The bench added Kedar Nath Singh judgment shows that a citizen has a right to criticize or comment upon the measures undertaken by the government and its functionaries. “It is only when the words or expressions have a pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC must step in,” said the bench.

“In our view, the statements by the petitioner as mentioned hereinabove, if read in the light of the principles emanating from the decision in Kedar Nath Singh and against the backdrop of the circumstances when they were made, can at best be termed as an expression of disapprobation of actions of the government and its functionaries so that prevailing situation could be addressed quickly and efficiently.”

If the SC had earlier refused to take up cases of Devgan and Goswami and asked them to knock the doors of the HC for similar cases, then why would it extend special privileges to Dua? It is also pertinent to note that several cases never make it to the apex court like that of Telangana journalist G. Raghu Ramakrishna working for Telugu media portal Tolivelugu who is a known critic of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

Ramakrishna was initially reported to have been kidnapped from his house near Malkajgiri in Hyderabad but police issued a statement later that he was arrested in connection with an old case.

Mattampally police station house officer informed the family of the 34-year-old journalist that they arrested him in connection with a case, in which he is accused number 19. The case was booked under sections 146, 147, and 148 (Rioting), 332, and 333 (Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) read with 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code, besides relevant sections of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932.

BJP leader N. Ramchander Rao denounced the arrest of the journalist who exposed and actively covered land grabbing cases. “TRS known for crushing the freedom of press resorted to one such horrendous act which required serious judicial intervention,” tweeted Rao, a lawyer.

It is expected that the SC would be even-handed and treat all journalists with equality. From the above cases, however, SC appears to be adopting different yardsticks for different journalists.

(With IANS inputs)

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