New Delhi (Agency): The Editors Guild of India (EGI) on Monday told the Supreme Court that its team had visited Manipur on the Army’s invitation to make an “objective assessment” of the “unethical and ex parte reporting” by the vernacular media.
“We did not volunteer to go there. It is the Army that requested us. We got a letter from the Army,” senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for the EGI, submitted before a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud. The Chief Justice was puzzled why the Army wanted the EGI to go to Manipur.
“They wanted us to make an objective assessment of what is happening on the ground… We published our report on September 2. On September 3 night, we were prosecuted for offences under the Indian Penal Code. The Chief Minister also makes statements against us… How can we be prosecuted for publication of a report,” Mr. Sibal asked the court.
The Chief Justice pointed out to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Manipur government, that this was a case in which the entire First Information Report (FIR) was based on a report by the EGI.
“It is a report after all. The basic question he [Sibal] is arguing is they have only done a report that may be a matter of their [EGI’s] subjective opinion… This is not a case of somebody on the ground having committed an offence… They have published a report,” the Chief Justice differentiated.
The Chief Justice further decided to examine Mr. Sibal’s request to allow the EGI to approach the Delhi High Court, instead of the Manipur High Court, with a plea to quash the FIRs. The court scheduled the case on September 15 for hearing on this point. Meanwhile, it extended its September 6 order protecting the journalists from arrest.
During the hearing, the Chief Justice asked Mr. Mehta whether the State would make a statement agreeing to a transfer of the case to the Delhi High Court as a one-off measure.
“We will not quash the FIRs here… but we will examine whether such a plea could be heard by the Delhi High Court,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.
Mr. Mehta initially objected to the transfer of the case to Delhi, saying the EGI was trying to make it into a “national, political issue”. He asked why the petitioners were insisting on Delhi, and not States neighbouring Manipur.
He said the Manipur High Court was functioning regularly and allowed virtual hearing of cases. He said mentions about the Chief Minister was a deliberate ploy to make it political.
Mr. Sibal countered that going to Manipur would be “hazardous” for his clients. He referred to how the property of two lawyers, who had appeared for Professor Kham Khan Suan Hausing, was vandalised recently in Manipur.
“Allow us to prosecute the matter here in Delhi,” Mr. Sibal urged.
The FIRs have accused EGI president Seema Mustafa, Sanjay Kapoor, Seema Guha and Bharat Bhushan of offences under several provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including defamation, defiling places of worship, criminal conspiracy, etc.
The complaints, based on which the FIRs were registered, accused the EGI report of “incorrect and false statements”.
The EGI had maintained that its report was prepared by the fact-finding team after extensive travelling and interviews with victims and eyewitnesses between August 7 and 10.
It had voiced serious apprehensions about the right to free speech and personal liberty of the journalists after hearing Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh’s statements on September 4 in a press conference following the release of the report.
“The Chief Minister said in a press conference he had personally held that the EGI was stoking passions and making provocative statements… Consider the particular dimensions now with the Chief Minister saying this…” senior advocate Shyam Divan, also for the EGI, had submitted in a hearing on September 6. (Courtesy: The Hindu)