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Fair And Frank Reporting of Events By Media Cannot Be Curbed Merely Because It May Have An Adverse Impact on the Business Of Some Class of Persons: J&K HC

Sparsh Upadhyay
9 Oct 2020 6:47 AM GMT
Fair And Frank Reporting of Events By Media Cannot Be Curbed Merely Because It May Have An Adverse Impact on the Business Of Some Class of Persons: J&K HC
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The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Thursday (08th October) quashed an FIR bearing No.26/2018 (registered under Section 505(1)(b) RPC) of Police Station, Kothi Bagh, Srinagar which was lodged against a senior journalist who published a news item in daily Times of India titled "Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured".The Bench of Justice Sanjay Dhar did not find that...

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The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Thursday (08th October) quashed an FIR bearing No.26/2018 (registered under Section 505(1)(b) RPC) of Police Station, Kothi Bagh, Srinagar which was lodged against a senior journalist who published a news item in daily Times of India titled "Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured".

The Bench of Justice Sanjay Dhar did not find that the contents of FIR and the news report published by the petitioner disclose the commission of an offence under Section 505(1)(b) RPC against the petitioner.

Facts of the Case

Associations of some travel agents had lodged a complaint with SHO, P/S Kothibagh, Srinagar, alleging therein that on 03.04.2018, the petitioner (a senior journalist) had published a news item in daily Times of India titled "Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured".

As per the complaint, the news item was based on false information and malicious intention with a view to disrupt peaceful tourist season and to create an atmosphere of threat amongst citizens of the Country.

The complainants went on to allege that the incident reported in the news item had, in fact, not taken place at all. On the basis of this complaint, FIR No.26/2018 for an offence under Section 505(1)(b) of RPC was registered with Police Station, Kothibagh, Srinagar

Arguments of the Petitioner

It was contended in the petition that though the incident of stone-pelting on tourists was denied by the Police Media Centre but it had, in its media briefing, admitted that two tourists got minor injuries on 1st April when the vehicles in which they were travelling came in the middle of an area where stone pelting was going on.

It was further contended that the allegations made in the complaint do not make out any offence against the petitioner and, therefore, the FIR is liable to be quashed.

The petitioner also contended that he is a renowned and reputed news reporter of a premier and prestigious newspaper of the Country and he had under a bonafide belief and in good faith reported the incident of stone-pelting on tourists, which incident has also been acknowledged by the police, therefore, registration of FIR against him amounts to an abuse of power and an attempt to gag freedom of speech and expression of the petitioner.

Legal Analysis

The petitioner contended that the contents of the FIR taken at their face value do not fulfil the ingredients of an offence under Section 505(1)(b) of RPC and, as such, the FIR is liable to be quashed.

In order to test the merits of this argument, the Court perused the provisions contained in Section 505(1)(b) of RPC [which is equivalent to Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code].

Court remarked that Clause (b) of Section 505 (1) of RPC, on which the prosecution's case was based, is in two parts.

The first part of the clause deals with a situation where the accused makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause, fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public whereas the second part of that clause is confined to making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public.

"In both the situations, the fear or alarm must induce a person to commit an offence against the State or against public tranquillity", the Court noted.

The Court further observed that the aforesaid provision of the Penal Code further contains an exception to the effect that there will be no offence within the meaning of Section 505 RPC when a person making, publishing or circulating any such a statement, rumour or report, has reasonable grounds for believing that such a statement, rumour or report is true and makes, publishes or circulates it in good faith and without any such criminal intent which may fall within the ambit of Section 505 RPC.

The Court cited the Judgment of Orissa HC in the case of Kali Charan Mohapatra v. Srinivas Sahu, AIR 1960 Orissa 65, wherein it was held that - unless the contents of a publication amount to incitement to an offence, the person who has published and circulated the same, cannot be held guilty under Section 505 IPC.

Importantly, the question that arose for the consideration of the Court was - whether a fearless and frank reporting of events/incidents in a newspaper would merely for the reason that the persons engaged in a particular business feel that their business would get adversely impacted by such news reports, attract Section 505 of Ranbir Panel Code?

"The answer to this question has to be in negative because reporting of events which a journalist has bona fide reason to believe to be true, can never be an offence", the Court observed.

Further, the Court opined,

"Taking a contrary view would be violative of the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Fair and frank reporting of events by electronic and print media cannot be curbed merely because it may have an adverse impact on the business of some class of persons. The freedom of speech and expression, which includes within its ambit freedom of the press, is subject only to reasonable restrictions imposed by law for a specific purpose."

Significantly, the Court also cited the ruling of Andhra Pradesh HC in the case of A. B. K Prasad v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others, AIR 1997 AP 357, wherein, the Court had ruled that the freedom of the press cannot be put in peril on the basis of the grounds which are unknown to law.

The J&K HC in the present matter observed that the limitations on freedom of the press cannot extend to the registration of a criminal case against a reporter, who in the discharge of his duties and on the basis of information gathered by him, makes a report about certain incidents which he thought in the public interest should be published.

"It is immaterial that said report may have adversely affected the business of some person(s) as long as the reporter had reasonable grounds to believe that his report is true. The police in such type of cases, cannot be allowed to hound the journalists by misusing its powers", the Court noted. (emphasis supplied)

Lastly, the Court clarified that the Exception to Section 505 makes it very clear that an offence under said Section is not made out if the person making, publishing or circulating the report has reasonable grounds for believing that such report is true and publishes the said report in good faith.

Court's Decision

The Court further observed that the documents, on which the reporter relied, clearly go on to show that the petitioner had reasonable grounds for believing that the news report, which he had published, is based on true facts.

In the light of the foregoing discussion of the factual and legal aspects of the instant case, the Court observed, it can safely be stated that the contents of FIR and the news report published by the petitioner do not disclose the commission of offence under Section 505(1)(b) RPC against the petitioner.

Lastly, the Court also noted that during the pendency of this petition, the complainant had entered into a compromise with the petitioner and he was no more interested in continuing the prosecution against the petitioner.

He also filed an affidavit to this effect before this Court. Therefore, the Court noted,

"If the investigation of the FIR is permitted to continue in the absence of statement of the complainant in support of the allegations made by him in the complaint, it would be like flogging a dead horse and no fruitful purpose will be served by continuing investigation of the case."

For the foregoing reasons, the Court noted, the present case is fit one where this Court should exercise its inherent powers under Section 561-A of the Jammu and Kashmir Code of Criminal Procedure, which is in paramateria with Section 482 of the Central Code of Criminal Procedure, to quash the FIR.

Accordingly, the petition was allowed and the impugned FIR bearing No.26/2018 of Police Station, Kothi Bagh, Srinagar, was quashed.

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