NEW DELHI, 1 Jun: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has welcomed the Supreme Court’s stay on coercive action by the Andhra Pradesh Police against two Telugu news channels, TV 5 and ABN Andhrajyoti, and its observation that the sedition law “requires interpretation, particularly in the context of the right of the electronic and print media to communicate news, information… even those that may be critical of the prevailing regime in any part of the nation.”
Along with its affiliate, the Andhra Pradesh Media Federation, the IJU said the apex court’s observation raises hope for the fourth estate and its working force, beleaguered by governments who are increasingly misusing the provisions of Sections 124 A, 153 A and 505 of the IPC to intimidate and harass journalists and gag independent media.
In its order on Monday following the two TV channels’ petition against the AP FIR under IPC Section 124 A, for airing “offending speeches” made by YSR Congress MP Kanumuri Raghu Rama Krishna Raju, against Chief Minister Jagan Reddy, the court said, “It’s high time we define what sedition is. Criticizing the government can’t be termed sedition.” It stayed the action against the channel and its personnel till the next date of hearing, as well as issued notices to AP government and the Centre in the matter, asking them to file a reply within four weeks.
In a statement, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit said a relook, “rather doing away with the archaic sedition law,” was of critical importance to democracy as press freedom was being brazenly muzzled. “The IJU has repeatedly expressed grave concern over undue haste shown by governments to file sedition cases against journalists to silence criticism. In fact, the IFJ and the IPI too have written to Prime Minister Modi to take urgent action to prevent increasing use of sedition laws to threaten independent journalists,” they said.
Justice Chandrachud’s remark: “A news report yesterday showed that dead bodies were being thrown in the river. I don’t know if a sedition case has been filed against the news channel yet or not,” said the IJU “hits the nail on the head.”
“Scores of journalists are battling legal cases under the sedition law and many are languishing in jails, thus seeking to instill a sense of fear in the media. The law must go,” the IJU said.