Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: Tarlok Singh Chauhan, J., dismissed the petition being devoid of merits.

The facts of the case are such that the petitioner was working in the field of journalism for the past more than 13 years as the Editor of the Hindi Weekly namely ‘Him Ujala’ circulated in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana having around 6,000/- copies circulation per week. The petitioner news weekly has been given award in the field of journalism by the Government of Himachal Pradesh i.e. ‘Laghu Patrikarita ke Kshetra me Nirantar Parkashan Hetu’, yet the accreditation of the petitioner has been cancelled only on the ground that there are certain FIRs pending against him.

Counsel for petitioners Mr Ashok Kumar Thakur submitted that the impugned action on the part of the respondent-State in stopping publication of the tenders and classified ads of the government and further not renewing the accreditation of the petitioner, is a direct attack on the freedom of press which is one of the pillars of democracy and it is imperative to ensure that there is no attack on the freedom of press and, therefore, also the action of the respondents-State is illegal.

Counsel for the respondents Mr Ashok Sharma, Mr Vinod Thakur and Mr Bhupinder Thakur submitted that the petitioner’s accreditation and suspension was placed before the Press Accreditation Committee, which is the final authority as per Rule 4 of H.P. Press Correspondents Accreditation and Recognition Rules, 2002 (for short ‘the Rules’), who after scrutiny of the record decided to keep under suspension the accreditation of the petitioner till the final outcome of the criminal cases pending against him in various Courts.

The Court relied on judgment Surya Prakash Khatri v. Madhu Trehan, 2001 SCC OnLine Del 590 observed that the power of the Press is almost like nuclear power – it can create and it can destroy. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative that the owner/editor of a newspaper like a petitioner shoulder greater responsibility and in case his own conduct is under scanner, then obviously, his accreditation has to be suspended.

The Court thus held that in the instant case, the accreditation of the petitioner has simply been suspended till the final outcome of the criminal case in exercise of sub-rule (2) of 14 of H.P. Press Correspondents Accreditation and Recognition Rules, 2002.

In view of the above, petition was dismissed.[Vijay Gupta v. State of Himachal Pradesh, CWP No. 7487 of 2014, decided on 09-04-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Jharkhand High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Ananda Sen, J., while addressing the instant matter with regard to the application of Section 228A of Penal Code, 1860 and subsequently the provision of defamation expressed that:

“…publishing of newspaper report of facts of lodging of an FIR cannot be said to be defamatory, especially when the FIR has been lodged by the victim herself.”

Through this interlocutory application it was submitted that during the pendency of the case, lower court cancelled the bail bonds of the petitioners, which necessitated the filing of the instant interlocutory application.

The criminal miscellaneous petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was filed by the petitioners to quash the order taking cognizance by which cognizance of offence under Sections 228 (A)/500/501/34 of the Penal Code, 1860 was been taken by the Judicial Magistrate.

OP 2 had filed a complaint against the petitioners who happen to be the Publisher, Chief Editor, Senior Editor and Resident Editor of a local newspaper and also against the newspaper itself and its publisher alleging therein that a newspaper report was published in the said newspaper with the following heading:

The said report contained that the victim was married and there was some dispute in relation to their residential house. She was subjected to sexual assault.

Complainant lodged a criminal complaint against the petitioners who happen to be the Editor and other officials of the newspaper alleging therein that as a result of the reporting of the FIR and incident, the victim was being harassed daily and sustained mental torture hence the said report amounts to be defamatory in nature.

Lower court on taking cognizance of the above incident issued summons to the petitioners.

Analysis and Decision

Bench noted that the said newspaper as stated above published a report about a lady, who had filed an FIR alleging that she was sexually assaulted after being administered with some narcotics. Though the sum and substance of the FIR was mentioned in the report no identity disclosure of the victim was reported.

Further, the Court added that only because the petitioners were Publisher, Chief Editor, Senior Editor and Resident Editor of the newspaper, they were named as accused.

In the complaint submitted it was nowhere mentioned that the fact reported was false, rather it was admitted that the fact, which was reported was true and the FIR had already been lodged by the victim under Sections 376/328 of the IPC.

In view of the above, Court stated that on perusal of the newspaper report it was found that name of the victim was not disclosed and since nothing was found in the newspaper report, which could suggest that the identity was made known, no application of Section 228 A IPC was made out.

Hence the Court held that in the present case it was a news which was admitted to be not false, thus not amounting to the application of Section 500 or 501 of the Penal Code, 1860.

High Court allowed the present criminal miscellaneous petition in view of the above discussion. [Ashutosh Choubey v. State of Jharkhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 2484, decided on 24-10-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Press Council of India has considered references received from various quarters by Government about the responsibility of Indian Newspapers in publishing foreign contents.

The Council is of the view that unregulated circulation of the foreign content is not desirable.

Hence, it advises the media to publish foreign extracts in Indian newspapers with due verification as the Reporter, Publisher and Editor of such newspaper shall be responsible for the contents irrespective of the source from which it is received.


Press Council of India

[Press Release dt. 25-11-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Meghalaya High Court: A Bench of Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, CJ and S.R. Sen, J. came down heavily on the Editor and the Publisher of Shillong Times while holding them guilty for contempt of court. 

Report, dated 10-12-2018, captioned “When Judges judge for themselves” were published in Shillong Times, an English daily newspaper. A contempt case was registered against Patricia Mukhim, Editor and Shobha Chaudhuri, Publisher of Shillong Times. 

Backdrop

The Government of Meghalaya decided to withdraw the protocol services provided to retired Judges and their family members without consulting the High Court. The Chief Justice convened a meeting of Government Officers concerned wherein they were asked to immediately restore the protocol services to retired Judges and their family members. However, no action was taken for 2 months and consequently, a suo motu proceeding was endorsed to the Court to take up the matter. Notice was issued but since the Government remained silent, the Court passed the necessary order ordering the Government to comply with its directions within a month. This order is at heart of the controversy. The report published in Shillong Times referred to this order.    

The Contempt

The report on the basis of which the contempt proceedings were initiated stated, “Justice SR Sen, who is set to retire in March, wanted several facilities for the retired chief justice and judges, their spouses and children“. Furthermore, Patricia Mukhim took the help of social media where, according to the Court, she even went to extent of mocking judicial system of this country and passed certain remarks against the Amicus Curiae which, according to the Court, insulted members of the Bar. 

Decision

After perusing the affidavits filed by the contemnors, the Court found that they had no regrets at all and no respect for the Indian judicial system. Rather they were trying to challenge the system. In its order, the Court stated, “We would like to ask whether the contemnor, Patricia Mukhim wants to control the judiciary as per her desire and will? If it is so, she is very much wrong”. 

Commenting on media rights, the Court observed, “The sacred duty of the media is to publish correct news, so that the actual fact reaches the people. They are not at all entitled to write as they like and slur the image of an individual or institution. The contemnors here must remember that though, they have the right to publish news and sell their papers, but it is limited, subject to their duties. They are not supposed to file any report without understanding the background of the case or verifying the truth. Only true news should be published not the false report and if anybody violates, they are liable for defamation and contempt of Courts”. 

In reference to the remarks made in the report related to the retirement of Justice Sen, explaining the background of the case, the Court stated, “the question of a particular Judge on the verge of retirement taking steps for himself or his family does not arise. Hence, the report which appeared in the Shillong Times by the is totally false and without any basis. Patricia Mukhim must understand that we are Judges and our job is to deliver justice for the people in general and we have our own disciplinary methods”.

In one of her social media posts, Patricia Mukhim wrote: “Should the legal counsel for the accused be told by a judge to literally ‘Shut up’ and not speak? Then what’s the role of an advocate if he is shouted down?“. Notably, her posts made indirect reference to ‘a Judge‘. In regard to this to this, Justice Sen stated in the order: “if at all, any such remarks have been made to any litigants or officer by any Judge, the person concerned should have reported to Hon’ble the Chief Justice and I myself with full faith and conscience, I say that I never asked any litigants or officer or lawyer about their personal life, rather it is a known fact to every member in the bar that I speak very less and hear the matters in accordance with law. So, if it indicates to Justice S.R. Sen, it is totally false and without any basis and we Judges maintain the dignity of the Court at all costs”.  

The Court clarified, “we don’t believe in judicial activism, we go according to the law, neither had we intimidated anyone by any notice”. K. Paul, Advocate appearing for the contemnors tried to put in different views on technicalities which according to the Court was totally misleading and was against the principle of professional ethics. 

The Court was of the view that the present matter came within the purview of Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases). After the conclusion of the arguments, contemnors filed two affidavits in the Registry without permission tendering an unconditional apology. However, the same appeared to the Court to be a calculated strategy to avoid punishment. It was stated, “The contemnors being responsible persons should not have indulged in the acts falling within the purview of derogation to the administration of justice”. Exercising power under Article 215, the Court sentenced the contemnors to sit in the corner of the Courtroom till rising of the Court. A fine of Rs 2 lakhs each was also imposed which was to be deposited with the Registry within a week. Further, “in default of payment, both the contemnors will have to undergo 6(six) months simple imprisonment and the paper so-called ‘Shillong Times’ will automatically come to an end (banned)”.

With such observations and directions, the notice of contempt was disposed of. [High Court of Meghalaya v. Patricia Mukhim, 2019 SCC OnLine Megh 41, dated 08-03-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The Bench comprising of Goutam Bhaduri, J. allowed an appeal concerning the defamatory publication made against two doctors in a newspaper.

In the present case, it has been stated that the appeal was filed against the judgment and decree passed by Additional District Judge, Manendragarh, wherein suit for damages of Rs 1,00,000 was dismissed for alleging defamatory publication in newspaper on the ground that justification of truth exists on the published news item and after dismissal, this appeal value was reduced to Rs 50,000 for damages.

Facts of the case are that, the two doctors namely Dr PP.K. Niyogi and Dr C.P. Karan have acquired reputation and name by their work of extending different medical help to people. Defendant Praveen Nishi, was a Publisher, Printer & Chief Editor of newspaper namely Ghoomta Darpan, who had published a piece of news that the doctors are committing dacoity with the poor in a piece of news. Further, it was published that the plaintiffs without any reason used to give the injection to the patients and recover Rs 40-50/- fees along with tests, sonography etc. Therefore, plaintiffs stated because of the said publication, plaintiff’s image was tarnished.

Defendant had averred that the publication of news was made in the public interest and in all bonafide without any intention of damaging the reputation of plaintiffs. Court framed three issues and dismissed the suit.

As stated by Mr Nishikant Sinha & Mr Shakti Raj Sinha, Advocates for the appellant, the plaintiffs refused to give an advertisement to the newspaper of the defendant, as revenge, false publication of the news was made without any proof thereof. Further stated that, the evidence categorically shows that the damage was done to the reputation to which truth was absent.

“Mere levelling the allegation against the doctor without any substance or proof, the presumption cannot be drawn that it was in the discharge of a public duty.”

Reliance was placed on the decision of the Supreme Court in Sewakram Sobhani v. R.K. Karanjia, Chief Editor, Weekly Blitz; (1981) 3 SCC 208, in which it was held that:

“The truth of an allegation does not permit a justification under the first exception unless it is proved to be in the public good. Question whether or not it was for public good is a question of fact like any other relevant fact in issue.”

Thus, the High Court stated that the aforesaid principle would go to show that the said privilege which has been claimed by the defendant as the editor cannot be accepted consequently it can be completely insulated by presumption or justification or truth. The defence which has been raised by the respondent that it was in public interest in a defamatory damages suit may not be squarely applicable and accepted. Besides that, there was no evidence on record that such public interest exists. The evidence is an opinion.

“Justification or truth never existed for which the suit was dismissed by the Court below.”

The appeal was allowed and suit decreed for Rs 50,000 as against damages. [P.K. Niyogi v. Praveen Nishi, 2018 SCC OnLine Chh 680, decided on 03-12-2018]