NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Tuesday asked a Mumbai-based lawyer to make a representation before the Centre on his plea that no FIR should be lodged against journalists for publishing and telecasting news unless sanction has been granted by Press Council of India (PCI) or any other judicial authority.
The apex court was hearing a plea which claimed that no provision has been enacted to protect freedom of press from "frivolous and malicious prosecution" and there is a need to lay down some guidelines.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde heard through video-conferencing the plea filed by advocate Ghanshyam Upadhyay, who claimed that some news channels are being targeted and a number of FIRS are being lodged in different states to snub their voices and to prevent them from awaking the citizens from nefarious and dangerous activities of "anti-social, anti-national persons".
The petition sought the court's direction that no FIR be registered and no prosecution be launched against media and scribes for offences punishable under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 500 (punishment for defamation) and 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth etc), on the basis of news published or telecast unless sanction has been granted by the PCI or judicial authority nominated by the apex court.
"Freedom of press/media is regarded as essential for the healthy growth and systematic function of any democracy and that being the case, growing tendency of suppressing/ oppressing and in a way gagging the press/media by disgruntled element with the aid of false and frivolous FIRs needs to be nipped in the bud, failing which, democracy itself would be a casualty, which under no circumstance can be permitted," the plea, filed through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, said.
It said that in the guidelines, the sanctioning authority should be asked to decide the application seeking lodging of FIR against the press and journalists within a time bound manner and its decision should be appealable.
The plea has also sought a direction to the PCI to formulate policies or parameters in consultation with all the stake holders for "fixing criteria with regard to have check and ascertain the truthfulness or otherwise of the claims made by newspapers/news channels, media agency/house, who seek to avail the benefit of the guidelines .
" It said these parameters should be submitted in the apex court so that the court could examine and approve it in larger public interest till such time legislature enacts a statue to deal with freedom of expression of the press.
The petition said that citizens are entitled to receive complete, uncut and truthful information, analysis, especially concerning issues affecting and impacting sovereignty and integrity of India.
"Certain elements in the society averse to free flow of such unbiased, truthful, complete, uncut information take recourse to entangle journalists engaged in providing such vital and crucial information to the public at large by frivolous and vexatious criminal prosecution," the plea said.
"Any interference with the presentation of the news, views of comments or any attempt to suppress or constrain it, would be impairment of the fundamental right of citizens of the country, which cannot be countenanced," it said.