Editors Guild of India has right to free speech, says CJI

SC asks complainants to file an affidavit within two weeks on why case against EGI should not be quashed; the Chief Justice also asks how these reports are promoting enmity among groups

Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud on Friday said the Editors Guild of India (EGI) may be right or wrong in its report about “partisan media coverage” of the Manipur violence, but it has a right to free speech to put forth its views in print.

The complaints, which led to the registration of FIRs against senior journalists, the members and president of the EGI, did not contain even a “whisper of the offences alleged against them”, the Chief Justice said.

The Bench gave the complainants two weeks to give an affidavit providing reasons why the FIRs against EGI president Seema Mustafa and senior journalists Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor should not be quashed by the top court.

SC grills complainants

“Tell us how any of these offences are made out from their report. Show us how Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code [promoting enmity between different groups] is made out. What is happening? They [EGI] are entitled to put forth their views. This is just a report. Where did you get all these offences from? Section 153A? You have said they have offended under Section 200 IPC [giving false declaration to a court]. Where did they give a declaration to a court? How is Section 200 implicated here?” Chief Justice Chandrachud grilled the complainants, represented by advocate Guru Krishnakumar.

The court, which had initially suggested shifting the FIRs to Delhi, upped the ante when the complainants repeatedly referred to the “damage done by the EGI” in Manipur by its report. “Since you raise that issue, tell us first about how these offences are made out. File an affidavit. Tell us why the complaints and the FIRs should not be quashed. The Army wrote to the EGI saying there was partisan reporting being done in Manipur. The EGI sends a team of senior journalists to the ground to intervene and find out. They may be right or wrong, that is what free speech is all about,” the Chief Justice reacted.

Mr. Krishnakumar suggested that his client would withdraw their complaints provided that the EGI withdrew its report. He finally agreed to file an affidavit in response.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, for the EGI and the journalists, said that counterviews to the report have been published on the same web page of the editors’ body along with the report.

Seeking transfer

Mr. Divan said that the Manipur High Court had already entertained a PIL against the EGI, and sought that the case be transferred to Delhi.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, for the Manipur government, objected to shifting the case to Delhi, but also urged the court to not open its ‘quashing jurisdiction’. At one point, Mr. Mehta changed tack to say “let the case go to the Delhi High Court. Let us not travel that [quashing the FIRs] path”.