Manipur violence: Supreme Court questions FIR against Editors Guild

Debjit Mukherjee: The Supreme Court on Friday termed the complaint against the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and its four members a “counter-narrative of the government” and asked how the offence of promoting enmity between different groups was made out against the journalists’ body which merely gave a report at Army’s request.

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud made the observation in the context of complaints that led to the registration of an FIR against the Editors Guild of India by the Manipur police over its fact-finding report on the riots. The court went on to say that the report did not contain even a whisper of the ingredients of the offences alleged against them.

Pointing out that the complaint was a counter-narrative of the government, the CJI said, “You say every para is false. Making a false statement in an article is not an offence of 153A. The statements may be incorrect. Incorrect statements are made by journalists across the country, will you prosecute all?”

The court observed the EGI team went to Manipur after the Army wrote to it about “partisan reporting” on the ground by vernacular media. The CJI said, “Mr Solicitor General, the Army writes to the guild. Army says that there was partisan reporting. They go on the ground and submit a report. They may be right or wrong. This is what free speech is all about.”

Further protecting the guild’s president Sema Mustafa and three journalists Sanjay Kapoor, Seema Guha and Bharat Bhushan from coercive action, the bench asked the complainant to file his response on why the case should not be quashed.

The top court was also critical of the fact that the Manipur High Court entertained the PIL against the EGI. The CJI was referring to the plea filed by the International Meitei Forum seeking quashing of the report submitted by the EGI.

“The manner in which that PIL is entertained by the Chief Justice of the High Court…let me not say much more as the head of the family. But surely there are more pressing matters to be entertained than these kinds of PILs,” Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud said.

The Editors Guild, in a report published on September 2, slammed the internet ban in the state as being detrimental to media reportage, criticised what it termed as one-sided reporting by some media outlets and claimed there were indications that the state leadership had “turned partisan” during the conflict.

The Editors’ Guild members were booked under various sections of the IPC including 153A (promoting enmity between two communities), 200 (using false declaration as true), 298 (deliberate intent to wound religious feelings), and under provisions of the Information Technology Act and Press Council Act.