The Supreme Court on Monday stayed coercive action against two Telugu channels - TV5 news and ABN Andhra Jyoti- in the FIRs registered by Andhra Pradesh police alleging sedition against them.
The channels have filed writ petitions seeking the quashing of FIRs and also contempt petitions contending that the Andhra Police action violated the April 30 order of the Supreme Court which restrained arrest and prosecution against citizens for ventilating grievances with respect to COVID issues.
Senior Advocates Shyam Divan and Sidharth Luthra, appearing for TV5 News and ABN Andhra Jyoti respectively, contended that the FIRs were registered against the channels for publishing the press statements of rebel YSCRP MP Raghu Rama Krishnam Raju.
A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat expressed a prima facie view that the FIRs are an attempt to "muzzle media freedom".
"It is time we define the limits of sedition", Justice DY Chandrachud observed.
The bench observed that the there was a need to define the scope of offences under Section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of communal hatred) under the Indian Penal Code, especially in the context of media freedom.
"...we are of the view that the ambit and parameters of the provisions of Sections 124A, 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 would require interpretation, particularly in the context of the right of the electronic and print media to communicate news, information and the rights,even those that may be critical of the prevailing regime in any part of the nation", the bench observed in the order.
On April 30, a 3-judge bench had issued notice on a petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A IPC.
The bench issued notices on the petitions of the news channels and stayed coercive actions against them till the next date of hearing.
Although Mr.Luthra sought for a stay of investigation, the bench said that it will only stay coercive action at the moment.
The pleas seek quashing of the FIR No. 12/2021 registered by the CID PS, A.P., Amaravathi, Mangalagiri under Sections 124A, 153A, 505 r/w 120B of the Indian Penal Code against them.
Apart from the submission that the FIR fails to make out the offences against the Petitioners, it has been further averred that the Petitioners have been constrained to approach the Supreme Court in light of the YSR MP being reportedly arrested in the pursuance of the impugned FIR and suffering custodial torture at the hands of the Respondent authorities. It may be noted that Krishnam Raju was granted bail by the Supreme Court two weeks ago.
The pleas argue that the only allegation in the impugned FIR against the Petitioners channel is that they allotted "premediated" and "organized" slots to Mr. Raju, which according to the impugned FIR evinces a meeting of minds amongst the accused persons.The plea also contends that the intention of the impugned FIR to criminalise the act of airing views of a sitting MP, who is a public figure, is clearly violative of the Petitioner's right to freedom of speech and expression, and also creates a chilling effect for media houses in the State.
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan and Advocates Vipin Nair and PB Suresh argued for TV5.
(Cases : M/s Shreya Broadcasting Private Ltd and another v State of Andhra Pradesh, Aamoda Broadcasting Company Private Ltd and another v State of Andhra Pradesh).