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Press Freedom Not Unfettered, Says Court While Granting Bail To Journalist Arrested Over Bandra Migrants Incident

Nitish Kashyap
19 April 2020 12:50 PM GMT
Press Freedom Not Unfettered, Says Court While Granting Bail To Journalist Arrested Over Bandra Migrants Incident
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A Magistrate Court at Bandra granted bail to Rahul Kulkarni, a journalist working for ABP Majha who was arrested for offences under various sections of the IPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act for an alleged false report that the Railways will be starting special trains for ferrying lakhs of stranded migrants workers across the state to their native places.

As per the FIR, in the morning of April 14, the journalist reported that the Railways are starting special trains for taking stranded migrant workers in the State to their native places. The FIR was registered for offences under Sections 117, 188, 269, 270, 505 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act,

According to the police, as a result of this report, hundreds of such migrant workers and labourers who have been stranded due to the current nationwide lockdown, gathered outside Bandra station creating a stampede like situation. Crowd finally dispersed after police started lathi charge and brought in reinforcements.

Judge PB Yerlekar while granting bail to Kulkarni observed that "the accused must not indulge in any controversy like the present one and observe utmost precaution while preparing a news report."

Police sought custody of the accused and the Court observed-

"Before considering the request of the investigating machinery, it would be appropriate to ascertain whether the action of the police was justiciable. It seems that in the referred news, the accused had clearly mentioned that special jan sadharan trains will be operated by the government to rescue stranded persons. His report clearly shows that the government and the railways administration have come to the definite conclusion that such trains will be operated. It is sufficient to invoke confidence of any commoner in the said news item that trains will be operated."

Court also noted that the news item went viral and some anti-social elements took advantage of the situation in inciting and gathering people at Bandra station.

The Magistrate reasoned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address at 10 am the same morning announcing extension of the lockdown made it clear that any form of transport utility will remain unoperational during the lockdown.

"In this background, the news report given by the accused is clearly misleading. The hurried reporting news shows that the accused acted in an irresponsible manner and in a bid to give some breaking news. His behaviour has actually led to the present situation.

Not only our country but the entire world is facing a difficult situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this situation maximum precaution is to be taken by persons like the accused in reporting any news. However the accused seems to have ignored this responsibility" Court said.

The accused's advocate argued on the ground of freedom of press enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution.

To this the Court responded-

"There is no doubt that the press enjoys freedom of speech and expression. However, such freedom is not unfettered. Reasonable restrictions are required to be followed by enjoying the freedom in the interest of public order."

Noting that the media has tremendous influence over the general public, Court emphasized that news reports should be made sensibly and in a more responsible manner with anticipation of consequences of the report.

Finally, the Court granted bail to the accused on a personal bond of Rs.15,000 for one month. Court also observed that since the accused had traveled through high risk zones of Covid-19, he should be under home quarantine for 15 days.  

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