The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Thursday quashed a first information report filed against a senior journalist from The Times of India for publishing an item in the newspaper titled “Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured”, Live Law reported.
Associations of some travel agencies had filed a plea against the report published on April 3, 2018, claiming that it was based on false information and with malicious intentions, to disrupt the tourist season and to create an a public perception of threat. The complainants also claimed that the incident described in the report had not taken place at all. An offence was registered under Section 505(1)(b) of the now-defunct Ranbir Penal Code.
Section 505(1)(b) of the Ranbir Penal Code is equivalent to the same section in the Indian Penal Code. As per the section, whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against the public tranquility, may be punished with imprisonment up to three years, or fine, or both.
The petition filed by the journalist said that the though the Police Media Centre had denied the incident of stone-pelting on tourists, it admitted that two tourists suffered minor injuries when they drove into an area where stones were being pelted. The journalist said that the allegations made in the complaint do not disclose any offence against the petitioner and urged the court to quash the FIR.
The petitioner contended that he is a renowned and reputed news reporter of a premier and prestigious newspaper of the country, and had reported the incident in good faith. Since the incident had also been acknowledged by the police, the filing of an FIR against him was an abuse of power and an assault on free speech, the plea said.
The court in its verdict noted that the “fear or alarm” must induce a person to commit an offence against the state or against public tranquility. However, it said that the Section 505(1)(b) also contains an exception wherein there can be no offence if the statement or report so made is done in good faith.
“Fair and frank reporting of events by electronic and print media cannot be curbed merely because it may have an adverse impact on the business of some class of persons,” the High Court ruled. “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 a specific purpose.”