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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Supreme Court: Sedition law needs relook, especially for media

The Supreme Court Monday said it is of the view that section 124A of the IPC, which deals with the offence, will need interpretation — especially on its application with regard to freedom of the press.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: June 1, 2021 7:10:46 am
Maratha quotaThe Supreme Court of India (File Photo)

RESTRAINING THE Andhra Pradesh police from taking coercive action against two TV news channels charged with sedition, the Supreme Court Monday said it is of the view that section 124A of the IPC, which deals with the offence, will need interpretation — especially on its application with regard to freedom of the press.

“Having heard learned counsel, we are of the view that the ambit and parameters of the provisions of Sections 124A, 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code would require interpretation, particularly in the context of the right of the electronic and print media to communicate news, information… even those that may be critical of the prevailing regime in any part of the nation,” a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud ordered.

“Till the next date of listing, there shall be a stay on the respondents adopting any coercive proceedings in pursuance of FIR…against the two television channels which are the petitioners before the Court, namely, TV5 and ABN, as well as their personnel,” the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, ordered.

Earlier, during the hearing, Justice Rao, while translating some of the vernacular terms in the FIR, remarked that “it is like muzzling the media”. Justice Chandrachud said that if a TV channel says something, it cannot be termed as sedition, and that “some guidelines must be set”.

Turning to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Justice Chandrachud said that he had this case in mind when he made the remark about sedition in the other hearing Monday on Covid management. In that hearing, Justice Chandrachud had said that “a news report yesterday showed that dead bodies were being thrown in the river. I don’t know if a sedition case has been filed against the news channel yet or not”.

The bench gave the state government four weeks to respond to the channels’ petition but did not stay the investigation in the case.

The matter pertains to police registering a “suo motu case” based on an enquiry report of the DIG-CID in Guntur District on May 13, 2021, on allegations over the channels broadcasting programmes in which Lok Sabha MP K Raghu Rama Krishna Raju, a rebel leader from the ruling YSRCP, allegedly criticised the government and Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy.

Raju has been named as the first accused in the case, and TV5 and ABN as the second and third accused, respectively.

In its plea, TV5 alleged that the FIR was a consequence of the channel broadcasting the speeches of Raju. The ABN petition said that ever since the Reddy-led government came to power, “ABN Andhrajyothi” channel has allegedly been “targeted by the State Government and its broadcasting was stopped at the ruling party/State Government’s behest, forcing it to approach the Hon’ble TDSAT and despite the order, the access to the petitioners’ channel is limited in Andhra Pradesh”.

Appearing for them, Senior Advocates Shyam Divan and Sidharth Luthra submitted that the FIR constitutes an attempt to muzzle the electronic media and is an assault on the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. They contended that the allegations in the FIR do not establish any offences under the provisions which have been invoked against them.

The counsel pointed out that the April 30 order of the court, while dealing with the suo motu case on Covid management, had categorically referred to the need for restraint in invoking coercive measures against those voicing comments critical to matters of governance that arise in the context of the Covid crisis.

Raju, who was arrested in the case, had obtained bail from the Supreme Court. He alleged that he was subjected to third degree torture while in police custody and has moved the apex court seeking a CBI inquiry.

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