The Supreme Court on Friday said that the police complaints against the Editors Guild of India members was a counter-narrative measure taken by the Manipur government against the press body’s report on the media coverage of the ethnic violence in the state, reported Live Law.

Two first information reports were filed against the authors of a fact-finding report – Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor – and the president of the Editors Guild of India, Seema Mustafa. The complainants had alleged that the report was false, fabricated and sponsored by narco-terrorists.

The police have invoked provisions of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to promoting enmity between groups, injuring or defiling a place of worship, uttering words with deliberate intent to hurt religious feelings, and statements conducing to public mischief.

At its previous hearing on Monday, the court had said that the case pertained to just publication of a report and was not about someone committing an offence on the ground.

The Editors Guild has sought directions from the Supreme Court to quash the two FIRs. The four members were granted interim protection on September 6 and extended it on Friday for the second time for two weeks till September 29.

At Friday’s hearing, a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud asked the complainant how the offence of promoting enmity between different ethnic groups was made out against them.

“They are entitled to put forth a viewpoint,” Chandrachud said. “Where do you get this? 153A [promoting enmity between two groups]? 200? Let us see each section. Section 200 IPC – it deals with using a declaration which is submitted before the court, which is a false declaration. Where was the declaration made to the court? This was a report.”

Senior Advocate Guru Krishnakumar, appearing for the complainant, said that the FIR or the complaint could not be treated as an encyclopaedia and that an investigation had to take place.

However, the Supreme Court said that the complainant has to show if the complaint even makes a mention of the ingredients of the offence.

“Your entire complaint is a counter-narrative of the government,” the court said. “You have basically put forth a counter-narrative, assuming that what they have said is false. Making a false statement in an Article is not an offence under Section 153A. It may be incorrect. Incorrect things are reported all across the country every day. Will you prosecute journalists for 153A?”

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had said that the Editors Guild did not have the authority to constitute a fact-finding team to conduct an investigation in the state. “They are anti-state, anti-national, and anti-establishment [people] who came to pour venom,” Singh had said. “Had I known it before, would not have allowed them to enter.”