State force should not be used to browbeat a political opinion or make journalists suffer the consequences of what is already in public domain, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while appreciating the stance of the West Bengal government in withdrawing cases against editor and reporters of online web portal OpIndia, reports Bar and Bench.
A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh stated in its order that in a country which prides itself on its diversity, there are bound to be different perceptions and opinions which would include political opinions.
But that does not take away the responsibility of the journalists in how they report matters, more so in a “twitter age,” the court added.
OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma and the portal’s journalist Ajeet Bharti had moved the Supreme Court in June 2020 after the West Bengal Police registered cases against them for offences under Section 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Supreme Court had stayed the three FIRs in June 2020. Subsequently, a fourth FIR was also registered which too was stayed by the top court in September 2021. The registration of the FIRs was an attempt to intimidate the journalists, the plea said. While various other mainstream news outlets had also carried articles and news pieces on the concerned subjects, the police had registered FIRs only against the petitioners, it was pointed out.
West Bengal government told the Supreme Court on Thursday that it has withdrawn the cases.
The court noted that what OpIndia had done was to reproduce what political class had already stated against each other. "What the petitioners have done is to reproduce what the political class has stated against each other and which is already in public domain, an aspect pointed out eminently by learned senior counsel for the petitioners," the order said.
The court, therefore, proceeded to quash the FIRs in view of the submission by the State that it has decided to withdraw the same. "If at all, the stand is to be appreciated of better late than never and should be a model for others to follow," the court said.
The top court further observed that difference "in perceptions can be expressed in better language," adds Bar and Bench legal portal.
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