Can’t prosecute journalist even if report false, says SC in Editors Guild case

“Making a false statement in an article is not an offence under Section 153A. It may be incorrect. Will you prosecute journalists for 153A?” orally observed the bench.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the Manipur Police for booking the President and three editors of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) for allegedly releasing a “biased and factually inaccurate” report on the ethnic strife in the northeastern state.

During the hearing, a bench headed by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, and comprising J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, questioned the criminal prosecution of journalists under Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the IPC for making an incorrect statement in the report.

“Making a false statement in an article is not an offence under Section 153A. It may be incorrect. Will you prosecute journalists for 153A?” orally observed the bench.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Manipur government, requested the top court to restrain itself from entering into the merits of the case while hearing the writ petition instituted under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Further, he urged in anticipation that if the apex court proposes to order transfer of the petitioners’ plea to the Delhi High Court, the same should not be construed as a reflection on the Manipur HC.

The Supreme Court extended its order granting interim protection for another two weeks and asked Manipur Police and the complainant to file their response in the meantime setting out how the offence of promoting enmity between different ethnic groups and other charges were made out against the accused journalists for releasing the report.

On September 11, the top court had indicated that it may transfer the plea seeking quashing of FIRs and other ancillary relief to the Delhi High Court and asked Mehta to obtain instructions from the Manipur government in that regard by September 15.

Mehta had then insisted that the matter should be remitted back to the Manipur High Court for adjudication where petitioners may appear virtually through the facility of video conferencing.

On the contrary, the petitioners had argued that the state government cannot initiate penal action against the three-member fact-finding team for merely publishing a report.

In its initial order passed on September 6, the top court issued notice and directed Manipur Police to not take any coercive steps against president of the EGI and three editors — Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan, and Sanjay Kapoor till further orders.

The Supreme Court had agreed to urgently hear the plea filed by the EGI members who visited the northeastern state last month to study media reportage of the ethnic violence and the circumstantial aspects, who later published a report in New Delhi claiming that the media’s reports on the ethnic violence in Manipur were one-sided, and accused the state leadership of being partisan.

“It should have avoided taking sides in the ethnic conflict but it failed to do its duty as a democratic government which should have represented the entire state,” the 24-page EGI report had said in its conclusions and recommendations.

 
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