Hearing Jay Shah’s criminal defamation case against The Wire, Justice Dipak Misra hit out at the media’s ‘baseless publications’, but said no to a gag order.
New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra hit out at TV channels and news websites for “baseless publications” during a hearing in a criminal defamation case Thursday. And while his views are being criticised by some, they are not very different from his long line of judicial decisions that have been slammed for limiting freedom of speech.
“Are they free to write anything? What they write is sometimes sheer contempt of court,” the CJI said in an oral observation Thursday. Misra added that it is not the “culture of journalism” to report anything that comes to the “heart and mind. They cannot publish anything because they own a few websites”.
But after making several critical observations on the state of the media, the CJI stressed that there is no “question of gaging the media”.
The CJI’s comments came in a hearing in a criminal defamation case against The Wire, which sought exemption from personal appearances and a stay on proceedings initiated by BJP President Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah, a businessman. Shah had filed civil and criminal defamation charges against The Wire for publishing a piece alleging that his company’s assets grew exponentially since the BJP government came to power in 2014.
In 2015, Misra had ruled that criticism of historically respected personalities ought to be avoided, and “can be criteria for restricting freedom of speech and expression”.
In 2016, he headed the bench that upheld the criminal defamation law, after finding that the “right to reputation was superior to freedom of speech”.
Last year, while hearing a PIL seeking a ban on online advertisements on pre-natal diagnostic testing, Misra allowed private companies to directly block content containing any keyword for pre-natal sex determination. The “doctrine of auto-block” was later modified when legal experts pointed out that allowing private companies to regulate content on the internet could violate free speech.
Famously, Misra had ordered that the national anthem must be played mandatorily at cinema halls, but withdrew his order a year later.
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