Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Thursday questioned if anything can be written about anyone, while the bench led by him heard a petition relating to a defamation case filed against The Wire. The petition was filed by Jay Amit Shah, the son of Bharatiya Janata Party national president Amit Shah, after the news website published a story alleging that the revenues of his company grew massively the year after the party came to power in 2014.
The top judge of the Supreme Court said many times that what was being published on websites amounted to contempt of court. This was in reply to a point made by senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for The Wire.
“Are they free to write anything? What they write sometimes is sheer contempt of court. There has to be some basis,” said Justice Misra. Sibal, however, said journalism was being throttled in the country. “A journalist has no right to question how profits went up by 80 crore? Will journalism flourish like this?” he asked.
When Misra said many things that are being written amounted to contempt, Sibal referred to a recent tweet by Tughlaq magazine editor and Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue S Gurumurthy, who had questioned whether Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court was a junior to former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Last week, the bench of Justice Muralidhar was hearing matters related to the former finance minister’s son Karti Chidambaram, who is currently in judicial custody in connection with a corruption case.
The Delhi High Court had taken cognisance of Gurumurthy’s remark, with the judge clarifying that he had never been Chidambaram’s junior. However, the Delhi High Court did not initiate contempt proceedings, a fact that Sibal pointed out to the Supreme Court on Thursday.
“If your Lordships are serious about contempt, then the court should take action against him [Gurumurthy],” said Sibal.
Earlier, Sibal said the article published by The Wire on the growth of Jay Shah’s business was based on public records. “Such gagging of the media is a violation of the right to free speech,” he argued.
Senior advocate NK Kaul, appearing for Shah, said the article made innuendos and selectively quoted figures to defame the businessman.
The chief justice, however, clarified that there was no question of gagging the media at all. The bench later restrained proceedings in a Gujarat court in the criminal defamation case filed by the businessman till the next hearing in the Supreme Court.