Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Support Our Journalism
HomeIndiaGovernance'Can’t use state force to browbeat opinion': SC on Bengal decision to...

‘Can’t use state force to browbeat opinion’: SC on Bengal decision to scrap FIRs against OpIndia

Apex court says journalists ‘suffer consequences of what is already in public domain', urges political class to introspect on ‘debasement in dialogues’.

Text Size:

New Delhi: While appreciating the West Bengal government’s decision to withdraw four cases lodged against online publication OpIndia’s editor Nupur Sharma and others, the Supreme Court Thursday called on the political class to introspect over the “debasement in dialogue” across the country. 

The court was hearing a petition filed by Sharma, OpIndia Hindi editor Ajeet Bharti, CEO Rahul Roushan, and Sharma’s husband Vaibhav, demanding quashing of four FIRs filed against them in West Bengal.

The FIRs were reportedly filed in relation to OpIndia reports on the communal violence at Bhadreswar’s Telinipara last year. 

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh said despite the Bengal government’s stand, it did not want to “let go of the opportunity of saying something which is troubling society and the court”.

“It is undoubtedly the debasement in dialogues which is taking place which needs introspection from the political class across the country. In a country which prides itself on its diversity, there are bound to be different perceptions and opinions which include political opinions,” it observed.

The court said the petitioners had only reproduced what politicians had said against each other, and this information was already in the public domain.

“State force should never be used to either browbeat a political opinion or the journalists suffer the consequences of what is already in public domain,” the bench observed.

It, however, added that “this does not take away the responsibility of the journalists in how they report the matters, more so in a ‘Twitter age’”.

Also Read: Nobel Peace Prize for journalists is a reminder that freedom of the press is under threat

‘A model for others to follow’

The petitioners had approached the court in June last year, after the West Bengal Police registered cases against them for offences under sections 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.

They had contended that the police had singled out OpIndia, and registered the cases despite other news outlets having carried similar reports. They had asserted that the “authoritarian Kolkata Police” was using registration of FIRs as an excuse to “intimidate journalists” into getting online content and reports critical of the state government deleted.

The apex court had then stayed three such FIRs in June 2020, and another one in September this year.  

During the hearing Thursday, senior advocate Siddharth Dave, appearing for the West Bengal government, told the court that the state has no objection to the quashing of the FIRs filed against the petitioners. 

The court then appreciated the stand taken by the state government as “better late than never”, adding that it should be “a model for others to follow”. 

It also appreciated the “constructive role” played by Dave “in bringing this matter to an end and possibly avoiding any adverse observations” from the court.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: In Karnataka, 16 journalists arrested in 1 year, most for blackmail & false propaganda


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular