SC to examine sedition law in context of press freedom

Remarks come as court restrains AP police from coercive action against news channels in sedition case

SC to examine sedition law in context of press freedom

Photo credit: iStock

New Delhi, May 31

The Supreme Court Monday said it will examine the interpretation of sedition law, particularly in the light of media rights and free speech, as it gave protection to Telugu news channels—TV5 and ABN Andhrajyothi—from any coercive action in a case lodged against them under the colonial-era provision.

The two channels were booked by Andhra Pradesh police for alleged sedition in showing ‘offensive’ speeches of YSR Congress rebel MP K Raghu Rama Krishna Raju.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L N Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said, “We are of the view that provisions of 124A (sedition) and 153 (promoting enmity between classes) of the IPC require interpretation, particularly on the issue of the rights of press and free speech”.

It restrained the Andhra Pradesh police from taking any coercive action against the channels and their employees or staffers in connection with the FIR.

The bench also sought the response of the state government within four weeks on the pleas of the channels which are charged for various offences including the harsh penal offence of sedition.

Both the media houses have recently moved the top court seeking quashing of an FIR registered against it in a sedition case in Andhra Pradesh, with one house claiming the attempt is to “create a chilling effect” for news channels in the state so that they are wary of hosting any content which is critical of the government.

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Shreya Broadcasting Pvt Ltd, which owns TV5 news channel with bureaus in Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Vijayawada, has alleged in its petition that the state “intends to silence” its critiques and the media by filing a “vague FIR” and abusing the process of law.

The FIR against the TV channel has connection with the sedition case lodged against Raju, who has already been arrested by the Andhra Pradesh police.

The channels have claimed that the FIR has been lodged against it for airing programmes involving Raju who has been critical of the state government led by his own party.

The channels have sought the apex court’s direction to restrain the authorities in Andhra Pradesh from taking any coercive action against the management and employees of the news channel in pursuance of the case lodged against them.

The Crime Investigation Department (CID), which has arrested Raju in the case, has also named two media houses and others as accused.

In its plea filed in the apex court through advocate Vipin Nair, Shreya Broadcasting Pvt Ltd has said that freedom of speech of media is of great importance and the FIR clearly intends to breach the same by “chilling the media houses into submission”.

On May 21, in a relief to the MP granted him bail in a sedition case registered in Andhra Pradesh saying that considering the medical report received from Army hospital, the possibility of his “ill-treatment” in custody cannot be ruled out.

The FIR has been lodged for the alleged offences under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (statements conducing public mischief) read with 120B (conspiracy) of Indian Penal Code.

The CID had also alleged that the MP particularly targeted two communities and tried to stoke hatred against them by trying to portray that the government has been favouring the two.

The past few years have seen a rise in sedition charges being invoked by law enforcement agencies.

In January, Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Congress mouthpiece National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editors Paresh Nath,  Anant Nath, and Vinod K. Jose were among those who faced sedition charges for sharing an unverified news article during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26.

The Supreme Court had stayed their arrest later. —  Agencies

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