Making some striking observations in the Editors Guild of India case, the Supreme Court said that the crime of promoting inter-group enmity, mentioned in the Manipur Police FIR, does not appear to be established. The court also questioned how simply making a report could constitute a crime.
A complaint was filed against three members of the Editors’ Guild investigation team, who had visited Manipur to assess media reports on the ethnic conflict in the state, as well as the president of the Guild. The complainant had alleged that the report submitted by the team was “false, fabricated and sponsored”, and that the accusations made in the first information report included promoting enmity between different groups.
During the hearing on Friday, a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said, “Prima facie, the crime mentioned in the FIR does not appear to have been established. There is no suspicion of crime in the complaint based on which the FIR was registered.
Noting that the Editors Guild team had been invited to Manipur by the Army, CJI Chandrachud said, “Mr. Solicitor General, the Army is writing to the EGI. The military says there was some partisan reporting. They go to the field and submit a report. They may be right or wrong. This is freedom of expression.
The court asked the complainant why the FIR should not be quashed and gave him two weeks to respond. Extending the interim measures granted to the journalists, the court said no action could be taken against them until then.
In its report released on September 2, the Guild said there were clear indications that Manipur’s rulers had become partisan during the conflict. He also criticized the state’s internet ban, which he said was detrimental to reporting, as well as “one-sided reporting” by some media outlets.
Representing the complainant, senior advocate S Guru Krishnakumar said, “This is a report which further fuels the animosity between the groups. If this is an investigative report, as they claim, then it should contain 100-200 photos of people from other communities who have The reason I am referring to all this is because the petitioner is trying to give the impression that a completely impartial report was submitted, but this is far from the case.”
Speaking on behalf of the Manipur government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the court could extend interim protection to journalists and transfer the plea to the Delhi High Court if the bench so desired.
On September 4, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had said that a case had been registered against Editors Guild president Seema Mustafa and senior journalists Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor. The section relating to defamation had been added after another FIR was filed a few days later.
The first FIR was filed by social worker N Sarat Singh and the second by Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita, a resident of Imphal.
The Supreme Court was hearing a petition by journalists seeking quashing of the FIRs.