The Supreme Court on Monday stayed coercive action against two Telugu channels – TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi – based on the first information reports filed by the police in Andhra Pradesh on charges of sedition, Live Law reported.
The channels have accused the Andhra Pradesh government of attempting to silence the media and critics on the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In their writ petitions, they said the action taken by the police violated the Supreme Court’s April 30 order, which warned that there should be no clampdown on citizens voicing their grievances in connection with the health crisis.
Advocates Shyam Divan and Sidharth Luthra, appearing for TV5 News and ABN Andhra Jyoti, told the court that the FIRs were filed against them for airing the critical comments of rebel YSR Congress Party MP Kanumuri Raghurama Krishnam Raju. The MP himself was in custody for sedition and the Supreme Court granted him bail on May 21.
“The FIR against TV5 is premised on the fact that there were premediated and organised slots given to Raju, which is not substantiated in the FIR and even otherwise cannot be termed as a criminal act as public figures are often hosted at designated time slots in news channels,” the channel said in its plea.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said that prima facie the FIRs are an attempt to “muzzle media freedom”. Justice Chandrachud added, “It is time we define limits of sedition”.
The court observed that there was a need to define the scope of offences under Section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of communal hatred) under the Indian Penal Code, to ensure freedom of media. “We are of the view that provisions of 124A and 153 of IPC require interpretation,” it said.
A three-judge Bench of Justices UU Lalit, Indira Banerjee and KM Joseph had on April 30 agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the sedition law.
Luthra sought for a stay on the investigation in the case, but the bench only stayed coercive action against the Telugu channels till the next date of hearing.
Meanwhile, during a hearing on a suo motu case on the coronavirus crisis on Monday, Justice Chandrachud sarcastically asked if a sedition case has been filed against a news channel for showing body being dumped into a river from a bridge in Uttar Pradesh, Bar and Bench reported.