Supreme Court of India (File photo)
NEW DELHI: Emphasising the crucial role of media in protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, the Supreme Court on Tuesday deplored the practice of harassing journalists by filing multiple FIRs in different parts of the country in the same matter and said that it would effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said journalistic freedom was at the core of freedom of speech and expression protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and free citizens could exist when the news media was free and not chained to adhere to one position.
“India’s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by the threat of reprisal. The exercise of that fundamental right is not absolute and is answerable to the legal regime enacted with reference to the provisions of Article 19(2). But to allow a journalist to be subjected to multiple complaints and to the pursuit of remedies traversing multiple states and jurisdictions when faced with successive FIRs and complaints bearing the same foundation has a stifling effect on the exercise of that freedom,” the bench said.
“This will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society. Our decisions hold that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express. But we must, as a society, never forget that one cannot exist without the other. Free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position,” it added.
The comments were part of the court order on a plea filed by an English news channel anchor who approached the court after more than a dozen FIRs and complaints were lodged in different states for his statement made during a show.
Although the apex court rejected his plea for quashing of all proceedings, it, however, directed that he would be probed in one FIR lodged in Mumbai and quashed all other FIRs and complaints. The bench also turned down his plea to hand over the investigation to CBI, saying the court should pass such order only in exceptional circumstances.
“Subjecting an individual to numerous proceedings arising in different jurisdictions on the basis of the same cause of action cannot be accepted as the least restrictive and effective method of achieving the legitimate state aim in prosecuting crime. The manner in which the petitioner has been subjected to numerous FIRs in several states, besides the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, on the basis of identical allegations arising out of the same television show would leave no manner of doubt that the intervention of this court is necessary to protect the rights of the petitioner as a citizen and as a journalist to fair treatment (guaranteed by Article 14) and the liberty to conduct an independent portrayal of views,” the bench said.
The court also extended the anchor’s protection from arrest for three weeks and asked him to pursue his remedies before the competent forum, including the high court. It also made it clear that the FIR lodged against the journalist did not cover the offence of criminal defamation and that offence would not form the subject matter of the investigation.