Supreme Court calls complaint against Editors Guild a “counter narrative” of the Manipur Government

The Court stayed proceedings under all First Information Reports filed against members of the guild.

Arguments continued in the Editors Guild of India’s (the Guild) petition challenging two First Information Reports (FIRs) for its “Report Of The Fact-Finding Mission On Media’s Reportage Of The Ethnic Violence In Manipur”. Senior Advocate Shyam Divan continued arguments in favour of transferring the petition to the Delhi High Court. The Court agreed to extend the protection from arrest awarded to the journalists on 11 September 2023 to two more weeks. 

On 3 September 2023, four journalists of the Guild were accused of several provisions under the Indian Penal Code 1860, for allegedly publishing false information, defamation and promoting enmity between groups. A social activist, Ngangom Sarat, registered the two FIRs and a Public Interest Litigation against the Guild’s report in the Manipur High Court. Sarat was represented by Senior Advocate Guru Krishnakumar in Court. 

Divan: FIRs directed an “avalanche of hate” towards the Guild

Divan argued that FIRs against the Guild should be quashed as there was “no crime committed at all” by the publication of the fact-finding report. As per the Guilds petition, the FIRs sent a “chilling effect” on all actions and criticisms raised by the citizens and violated Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. 

Divan argued that the “bonafide” mission was carried out at the request of the Indian army who informed the Guild about “partisan reporting” in Manipur. This persuaded them to undertake the mission. Sarat’s petition against the report resulted in an “avalanche of hate” directed at the Guild, Divan argued. 

In the previous hearing, the Court looked into the possibility of transferring Sarat’s petition to the Delhi High Court, instead of the Manipur High Court. Divan favoured the transfer citing security threats against the journalists if they appeared before the Manipur High Court. He narrated two incidents of a lawyer’s house being ransacked in Manipur and the killing of a police officer to justify his claim that there was a security threat. 

Krishnakumar: Fact-Finding Report is written from a “Kuki Perspective” 

Appearing for Sarat, Krishnakumar argued that the Manipur government had “not lifted a finger” against the Guild after the FIRs were registered. Further, the Guild directly approached the Supreme Court without making Sarat a party to the proceedings, which did not give him an opportunity to file a response.

Next, he addressed the report itself. Krishnakumar claimed that the Guild’s report was written from a “kuki perspective” and instigated problems in the state. The state, he said, had to impose curfews after the report was published. 

Krishnakumar strongly rejected the idea of transferring the case to the Delhi High Court, stating that Guild was using “imaginary reasons” for this request.

 Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud: Complaint is a “counter-narrative” of the Government 

The Bench, also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra scrutinised the complaint and sharply criticised the charges against the Guild. The chargesheet stated that the Guild was promoting enmity between different groups (Section 153A) and was making false declarations (Section 200). 

The Chief stated that “incorrect” news is reported every day and “making a false statement in an article” does not attract Section 153A. Further, he stated that a “false declaration” under Section 200 is actually a “false declaration in a Court”. He pointed out that the report never submitted any statements in a Courtroom, for it to then be false and attract Section 200. He stated that the complaint appears to simply be a “counter-narrative” of the Government against the findings of the report. 

After these sharp observations from the Bench, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta suggested that the Bench should transfer the matter to the Delhi High Court. Interestingly, in the previous hearing, Mehta strongly opposed the transfer. The Bench directed Krishnakumar to submit a response against the Guild’s petition in two weeks. The Bench stayed all proceedings under the FIRs. 

The case will be heard after two weeks.