The Supreme Court on Monday observed that it was time to define sedition in terms of freedom of the press. “It’s high time we define what sedition is. Criticising the government can’t be termed sedition,” the apex court said.
The observation was made by a three-judge bench, hearing a plea related to sedition charges brought up against two Telugu news channels – TV 5 and ABN Andhrajyoti – by the Andhra Pradesh Police.
The Andhra Police had registered an FIR under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises sedition, against TV 5 and ABN Andhrajyoti for airing “offending speeches” made by YSR Congress lawmaker, Kanumuri Raghu Rama Krishna Raju.
Senior advocates Shyam Divan and Sidharth Luthra, appearing for the news channels, argued that the FIR was an attempt to ‘muzzle electronic media’ and ‘violate freedom of the press’.
The channels, in their plea, have sought quashing of the FIR, saying that act of broadcasting speech by a sitting MP cannot be seditious.
The apex court said that Section 124A requires detailed interpretation with respect to its application to media and freedom of the press.
“We are of the view that provisions of 124A and 153 of IPC require interpretation, particularly on the issue of the rights of the press and free speech,” Justice DY Chandrachud, who was heading the bench, remarked.
If a TV channel says something it cannot be called sedition, he added.
The court directed the Andhra Pradesh government not to take any coercive action against the two news channels in the matter.
“The germane of an allegation arises from the certain programme which was broadcast involving the participation of Kanumuri Raghu Rama Krishna Raju. The FIRs do not establish the offence invoked against them. Article 32 jurisdiction has been invoked saying our earlier order stated that contempt would be issued if the coercive arm of the law is used against free speech. Till the next date of listing there shall be stayed on coercive action against the two tv channels and their personnel,” the Court ordered.
The SC has also issued notices to the Andhra government and the Centre in the matter and have been asked to file a reply within four weeks.
Advocate Luthra also urged the apex court to review Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code which refers to incitement to violence – public mischief by spreading rumour/false information. India Today