A PIL has been moved before the Supreme Court seeking directions to prevent penal action against journalists basis any publication, telecast or airing of views in India.
Republic TV & Zee Media have been impleaded in the plea, stating that "nationalistic" and "patriotic" media must not be gagged and suppressed by anti-national elements.
The plea has been filed by a Lawyer Ghanshyam Upadhyay and seeks protection of the fundamental rights of the press, electronic media and print media as envisaged under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution by issuance of directions to lodge FIRs against the press and media unless sanction for registration of such FIRs/prosecution has been granted by the Press Council of India and/or any judicial authority nominated by Court.
In terms of the above, the plea calls for framing of guidelines for purposes of registration of FIRs against journalists for casting news/ debates.
"....seeking laying down of guidelines with regard to registration of FIR against journalists/ press/ media / their executives and investigation in respect thereof so as to ensure that the press/ media, which is the fourth pillar of democracy, is not subjected to suppression and oppression and their voice" - Excerpt of Plea
Stating that actions taken against the print and electronic media adversely effects the Citizens right to information enshrined under Article 19(1)A of the constitution, the plea seeks specific guidelines for taking adverse action against journalists for voicing their opinions.
"To effectively exercise the right of free speech and expression and for forming opinion it is necessary to have impartial journalist in the country who can perform their duty without fear"
The plea contends that when Zee News & Republic TV had posed "important" questions and relevant news vis-à-vis the responsibility of Tablighi Jamaat for spreading Coronavirus and silence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi's silence on the Palghar Mob Lynching, "certain disgruntled elements with a view to silence them" lodged FIRs against them in different states across the country.
"These news channels as a matter of fact performed their duties as responsible media which did not violate any law for the time being in force. On the contrary, these two channels which are being targeted now by certain section of people and political party by telecasting such programmes performed their professional responsibility and duty toward the country and its people and responsibility of journalism" - Excerpt of Plea
Thus, the plea avers that citizens are "entitled to receive complete, uncut and truthful information/analysis, especially concerning issues affecting/impacting sovereignty and integrity of India" and that "certain elements" which are averse to free flow of information are entangling journalists in "vexatious" and "frivolous" criminal prosecution for their "vested interests".
To exemplify the aforementioned, plea goes on to mention the recent cases filed against Arnab Goswami & Sudhir Chaudhary, which are alleged to be "false, frivolous, vexatious and malicious prosecution" by the petitioner.
Furthermore, it is contended that as the petitioner is an alert citizen of the country, it is imperative that "anti-national" elements do not engage in tactics to destabilise or destroy the country.
"....at present even media seems to be divided in two groups inasmuch as while one group is that of a patriotic and nationalists and have been from time to time exposing the anti-national elements and their anti-national activities and sinister design of sabotaging and partitioning the country, however, the other group is acting on the lines of anti-national elements" - Plea Contends
In this backdrop, the plea states that it is extremely essential that guidelines are formulated by the Government of India as mandatory sanction for registration of FIR against journalists, media houses, their executives in respect of offences punishable under sections 295A, 153, 153A, 153 B, 298, 500, 504, 505(2), 506 (2) r.w. Section 120-B of I.P.C. and similar such other enactments.
This, the plea suggests may be formulated in consultation with all the stake holders for those media organisations that have a certain number of readership/viewership.
Additionally, the plea also makes representations alluding to the protection of free speech and expression viz. Article 19 for journalists which is "essential for the healthy growth and systematic function of any democracy" according to the petitioner.
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