Raising bogey of sedition to fix activists, journalists

TEHELKA COVER STORY in this issue is about the law of Sedition and how it has been misused over the years. As a media house, we have been advocating free and fearless journalism. In recent years, journalists have been mostly at the receiving end with cases slapped on them under sedition to curb freedom of expression. In fact there has been rampant misuse of the sedition provisions by the governments. A free and fearless media is fundamental to a vibrant democracy.

It is in this context that two recent judgments of the Supreme Court give a glimmer of hope. It is heartening that the Apex Court has stood up for the media’s right to criticize the functioning of the government.

Quashing a sedition case registered against journalist Vinod Dua for his alleged comments targeting the Prime Minister, the Court ruled that only when the words or expressions have pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order, that Sections 124A (sedition) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC must step in.

A day after the Supreme Court quashed the sedition case in Himachal Pradesh against journalist Vinod Dua while stressing that “a citizen has the right to criticize or comment upon the measures undertaken by a government”, the Editors Guild of India welcomed the judgment.  Saying the judgment “underlines the importance of protecting journalists from sedition cases”, the

Editors Guild appreciated the Supreme Court’s concerns over the “chilling effect that sedition laws have on free media and democracy”.

It added, “The Guild demands repeal of these draconian and antiquated laws that find no space in any modern liberal democracy.”

In another case, the top Court said the ambit and parameters of the colonial-era law required interpretation, particularly with regard to the right of the electronic and print media to broadcast or publish content that may be critical of any government anywhere in the country.

In this case, the court had given protection to two Telugu news channels which had been booked under the sedition law for airing views against the Andhra Pradesh government. Andhra Pradesh police had suo motu lodged an FIR on May 14 under Sections 124A, 153A and 505 of IPC against two journalists for broadcasting the views critical of state’s Covid-19 management policy.

The two judgments will now encourage media persons to do their job without fear of being booked for sedition at the drop of a hat as this law has often been misused against social activists and media persons who were routinely charged with sedition for airing views critical of the powers that term individuals as anti-nationals.

Anyone who does not agree with his masters’ voice, could be charged under sedition law for a term that entails a punishment of up to life imprisonment. As such the judgments by the Supreme Court need to be welcomed!