IN two judgments this week, the Supreme Court has stood up for the media’s right to criticise or comment on the government’s functioning — so long as there is no incitement to violence or any intention of creating public disorder. Quashing a sedition case registered against journalist Vinod Dua for his alleged comments targeting the Prime Minister, the court invoked the landmark judgment in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (1962) and ruled that “it is only when the words or expressions have pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that Sections 124A (sedition) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC must step in.” On Monday, the court had given protection to two Telugu news channels which had been booked under the sedition law for airing views against the Andhra Pradesh government. In that case, the SC said the ambit and parameters of the colonial-era law required interpretation, particularly with regard to the right of the electronic and print media to broadcast/publish content that may be critical of any government anywhere in the country.
The Supreme Court and the High Courts have been repeatedly harking back to the 1962 verdict to specify what amounts to sedition and what doesn’t, besides taking a serious note of the misuse of the draconian law to stifle the citizens’ freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It’s disturbing that sedition cases slapped against journalists and activists are on the rise in recent years. However, most of these cases don’t have a leg to stand on in a court of law as these are largely coercive tactics aimed at silencing dissent and criticism. No wonder their conviction rate, which was 33 per cent in 2016, dropped to just 3 per cent in 2019.
It is hoped that the latest judgments will encourage mediapersons to do their job fearlessly and at the same time deter law enforcement agencies from lodging sedition FIRs at the drop of a hat. The verdicts should also serve to caution the powers that be to avoid reducing the law to a terrorising tool.
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