Taking a strong view on attempts to muzzle the Fourth Estate, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Monday called for defining "the limits of sedition", as it put on hold coercive action against two Telugu channels -- TV5 news and ABN Andhra Jyoti.
The Andhra Pradesh police had mentioned the coercive measures in an FIR alleging sedition.
The bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat said: "It's time we define the limits of sedition" and expressed prima facie that FIRs are an attempt to muzzle media freedom.
Emphasizing everything cannot be treated as sedition, the bench said the Andhra Pradesh government's act of filing sedition cases against the channels in an attempt to muffle their voice.
The channels moved the top court seeking quashing of FIRs and also contempt petitions contending that Andhra police action violated the April 30, court's order, which emphasized on restraining prosecution against citizens, who ventilate grievances in connection with Covid issues.
The top court said the TV channels broadcasting programmes and print media publishing views, "howsoever critical of the government, may not be seditious".
Define sedition; respond to petitions
The top court observed that it would endeavour to define sedition in the context of such charges being invoked against the media.
The apex court asked the Andhra government to respond to the petitions and contempt pleas of two TV channels within four weeks and in the interim, the court added that the police will not take any coercive steps against TV channels and journalists.
Senior advocates Shyam Divan and Sidharth Luthra, representing TV5 News and ABN Andhra Jyoti, contended that the FIRs were registered against the channels for publishing the press statements of rebel YSRCP MP Raghu Rama Krishnam Raju.
The bench noted there was a need to define the scope of offences under Section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of communal hatred) under the IPC, especially in the context of media freedom.
Luthra sought a stay of investigation, but the bench replied that it will only stay coercive action at the moment.
The pleas argued that the only allegation in the FIR against the news channels was that they allotted "premeditated" and "organized" slots to Raju, which evinces a meeting of minds amongst the accused persons.
On May 14, Raju was arrested weeks after he asked a CBI special court to cancel the bail of Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, in a disproportionate assets case. On May 21, the top court granted bail, citing a possibility that he was "ill-treated in custody".