After Allahabad High Court barred reporting on troops’ movement

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Centre on appeals filed by the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) challenging an Allahabad High Court order barring the media from reporting on movement of troops.

A Bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad issued notice after hearing senior counsel P.P. Rao, who appeared for the PCI.

The PCI submitted that the High Court order was in violation of fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution to the media and every citizen of the country.

The INS said the Lucknow Bench went beyond the scope of the PIL plea seeking an enquiry into an Indian Express article on April 4, titled “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Government.”

The appeal said the order had the effect of imposing a blanket ban on the reporting or release of any news item in the print or electronic media relating to the movement of troops.

Implications for press freedom

The INS said it was vitally concerned about the implications of the impugned order for press freedom. It pointed out that the High Court dismissed the petition, yet gave directions “which are well beyond the scope of the petition and imposes an omnibus ban on all reportage of troop movement irrespective of whether or not the same had security implications. No notice was issued to the petitioner or any media organisation prior to passing the impugned order.”

It said: “The appeal raises important questions of law for consideration by this Court, viz. whether a blanket pre-censorship order on reportage of all troop movements would not violate the fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution; whether reportage of all troop movements, irrespective of their nature and timing can be said to compromise the sovereignty and integrity of India, and security of the State within the meaning of Article 19(2) of the Constitution; whether reportage relating to the armed forces, which are sensitive in nature and are capable of compromising national interest and security, are already not proscribed under existing laws such as the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act, Cable Television Networks Regulation Act and the Official Secrets Act.” The appeals sought quashing of the impugned order and an interim stay on its operation.

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