SC to interpret sedition law in context of free press, information critical to regimes


By Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Stating it was high time to define the limits of the sedition law on free speech and media rights, the Supreme Court on Monday gave protection to two Telugu TV channels from coercive action by the Andhra Police. FIRs were registered against the two channels – TV5 News and ABN Andhra Jyoti – for airing the statements made by rebel YSR Congress MP Raghu Rama Krishnam Raju. 

“If TV channels say something (news), it cannot be called sedition,” said a three-judge bench, led by Justice D Y Chandrachud, while hearing a plea by the channels, which had invoked Article 32 of the Constitution to initiate contempt proceedings against the Jagan Reddy government for muzzling free speech. The court had earlier granted bail to Raju, who was also named as an accused in the FIR registered on May 14.

“This is a case of muzzling the media,” the bench observed, adding: “We are of the view that the provisions of section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the IPC require interpretation, particularly on the issue of the rights of press and free speech.”

Holding that the FIRs did not establish the offence invoked against the channels, the apex court issued a notice returnable in four weeks to the Andhra Pradesh government. It also issued a direction to the state police not to adopt any coercive action till the next hearing. Earlier, the court took a dig at the authorities for reacting sharply to critical media reportage on Covid, wondering whether a sedition case was lodged against a news channel for showing a body being thrown into a river.

“We saw a picture of a body being thrown in river. I do not know whether a sedition case has been filed against the news channel for showing that,” Justice Chandrachud asked sarcastically when the issue of dignified handling of bodies came up before his bench.

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