Making some striking observations in the Editors Guild of India case, the Supreme Court has said that the crime of promoting enmity between groups, mentioned in the Manipur Police FIR, does not appear to be made out. The court also wondered how merely giving a report could constitute a crime.
A case had been filed against three members of the Editors Guild’s fact-finding team, who had gone to Manipur to assess the media’s reportage of the ethnic conflict in the state, and the Guild’s president. The complainant had alleged that the report submitted by the team was “false, fabricated and sponsored”, and the charges in the first information report included promoting enmity between different groups.
During the hearing on Friday, a bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said, “Prima facie, the crime mentioned in the FIR does not appear to be made out. There is no whisper of crime in the complaint based on which the FIR has been registered.”
Noting that the Editors Guild team had been invited to Manipur by the Army, CJI Chandrachud said, “Mr Solicitor General, the Army writes to the EGI. Army says that there was partisan reporting. They go on the ground and submit a report. They may be right or wrong. This is what free speech is all about.”
The bench asked the complainant why the FIR should not be quashed and gave two weeks for a reply. Extending the interim relief given to the journalists, the court said no action can be taken against them until then.
In its report, published on September 2, the Guild had said there were clear indications that the Manipur leadership had become partisan during the conflict. It was also critical of the internet ban in the state, which it said was detrimental to reportage, and the “one-sided reporting” by some media outlets.
Representing the complainant, senior advocate S Guru Krishnakumar said, “This a report which ferments further animosity between groups. If this is a fact-finding report, as they claim, then it should have 100-200 photos of people from other communities who have suffered damage. The reason I’m referring to all this is that the petitioner is trying to project a picture that a completely unbiased report has been submitted, but it is far from that.”
Appearing for the Manipur government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the court may extend the interim protection to the journalists and transfer the plea to the Delhi High Court if the bench wanted to do so.
On September 4, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had said that a case had been registered against Editors Guild president Seema Mustafa and senior journalists Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor. The section pertaining to defamation had been added after another FIR had been filed a few days later.
The Supreme Court was hearing a petition by the journalists seeking the quashing of the FIRs.