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'State Force Should Never Be Used To Browbeat Political Opinion Or Journalists Suffer Consequences Of What Is Already In Public Domain': SC

Srishti Ojha
10 Dec 2021 1:06 PM GMT
State Force Should Never Be Used To Browbeat Political Opinion Or Journalists Suffer Consequences Of What Is Already In Public Domain: SC
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While quashing the FIRs filed over the reports published in 'OpIndia' portal, the Supreme Court of India observed that State force should never be used to either browbeat a political opinion or the journalists suffer the consequences of what is already in the public domain.A Bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice MM Sundresh added that this does not take away...

While quashing the FIRs filed over the reports published in 'OpIndia' portal, the Supreme Court of India observed that State force should never be used to either browbeat a political opinion or the journalists suffer the consequences of what is already in the public domain.

A Bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice MM Sundresh added that this does not take away the responsibility of the journalists in how they report the matters, more so in a "Twitter age". 

While issuing the directions, the Top Court took the opportunity to make some observations on what according to the Bench is troubling the society and the Court.

According to the Bench, it is undoubtedly the debasement in the dialogue which is taking place which needs introspection from the political class across the country.

The Bench observed that in a country that prides itself on its diversity, there are bound to be different perceptions and opinions which would include political opinions, which is the very essence of democracy.

Referring to the present case, the Bench observed that what the petitioners did was to reproduce what the political class had stated against each other and which is already in public domain.

The Bench opined that the difference in perceptions can be expressed in better language.

The Bench observed that considering the very nature of the job required to be performed by the political class at times their exchanges may get heated, but the same should not explode.

The Bench went ahead with the quashing of the FIRs after Senior Counsel Siddharth Dave appearing for the State of West Bengal submitted that the FIRs forming subject matter of the present petition and the application will stand withdrawn and may be quashed by the Court.

While appreciating the stand taken by the State of West Bengal saying "better late than never", the Bench observed that this should be a model for others to follow.

The Bench has issued the directions in a writ petition filed by Nupur J Sharma, Editor of OpIndia, her husband Vaibhav Sharma, founder and CEO of the portal Rahul Roushan and the Editor of the Hindi wing of the platform Ajeet Bharti.

The petitioners had submitted before the Court that the FIRs amounted to an abuse of law by the police to suppress press freedom and actions were taken for carrying news reports criticizing the West Bengal government.

The Supreme Court had in June last year passed an interim order staying the investigation in three FIRs. In September 2021, the Court stayed the investigation in another FIR registered against them. The FIRs were registered alleging offences under Section 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.

The petitioners had argued that though the news reports were contemporaneously carried by other media organizations, OpIndia editors were selectively targeted by the West Bengal police.

The petitioners contended that the police pressurized them to delete the contentious news items. The police action is "arbitrary", "high-handed" and violative of press freedom under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the petitioners stated.

The State was represented through Senior Advocate Siddharth Dave, Advocate Vikas Mehta and Advocate Apoorv Khator. Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani and Advocate Ravi Sharma appeared for the petitioners.

Case Title: Nupur Sharma & Ors vs State of West Bengal & Ors 

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