Freedom of press cannot be put in peril on basis of grounds which are unknown to law: J-K HC

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Srinagar : Observing that freedom of the press cannot be put in peril on the basis ofJio the “grounds which are unknown to law”, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Thursday said that “fair and frank reporting of events by electronic and print media cannot be curbed merely because it may have an adverse impact on business of some class of persons.”

“The limitations on freedom of the press cannot extend to registration of a criminal case against a reporter, who in discharge of his duties and on the basis of information gathered by him, makes a report about certain incidents which he thought in public interest should be published,” a bench of Justice Sanjay Dhar said while quashing an FIR against Time of India reporter Salim Pandit, filed against him for the story titled: “Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured” in 2018. The FIR was filed under Section 505(1)(b) of RPC with Police Station, Kothibagh Srinagar following a complaint filed by person associated with tourism who had contended that the reportage threatens to disrupt the tourist season.

“The question that arises is whether a fearless and frank reporting of events/incidents in a newspaper would merely for the reason that the persons engaged in a particular business feel that their business would get adversely impacted by such news reports, attract Section 505 of Ranbir Panel Code,” the court said and responded the query in negative “because reporting of events which a journalist has bona fide reason to believe to be true, can never be an offence.”

“Taking a contrary view would be violative of the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Fair and frank reporting of events by electronic and print media cannot be curbed merely because it may have an adverse impact on business of some class of persons,” the court said as per Global News Service, adding, “The freedom of speech and expression, which includes within its ambit freedom of the press, is subject only to reasonable restrictions imposed by law for specific purpose.”

Referring to a judgment by Andhra Pradesh High Court, the single bench of Justice Sanjay Dhar observed that it becomes clear that freedom of the press cannot be put in peril on the basis of the grounds which are unknown to law.

“The limitations on freedom of the press cannot extend to registration of a criminal case against a reporter, who in discharge of his duties and on the basis of information gathered by him, makes a report about certain incidents which he thought in public interest should be published,” the court said, adding, “It is immaterial that said report may have adversely affected the business of some person(s) as long as the reporter had reasonable grounds to believe that his report is true. The police in such type of cases, cannot be allowed to hound the journalists by misusing its powers.”

Referring to section 505(1) b, the court said that mere making or publishing of a statement or rumour creating fear or alarm in the absence of inducement of a member of public to commit an offence against the State would not satisfy the ingredients of offence under the provision of the erstwhile RPC.

“The aforesaid provision of the Penal Code further contains an exception to the effect that there will be no offence within the meaning of Section 505 RPC when a person making, publishing or circulating any such statement, rumour or report, has reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumour or report is true and makes, publishes or circulates it in good faith and without any such criminal intent which may fall within the ambit of Section 505 RPC.” (GNS)

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