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Constitution, not legislatures, is supreme, says Ram

CHENNAI NOV. 10. Speakers of some legislatures might say that they are sovereign but in India, the Constitution is supreme, not legislatures, not even the Lok Sabha, the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, N. Ram, said here today, following the Supreme Court's order staying the arrest of five senior representatives of The Hindu and the Editor, Murasoli.

Asked by mediapersons here about a scenario of the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker, K. Kalimuthu, insisting on the police executing the arrest warrant, Mr. Ram said the apex court had ordered that the journalists should not be arrested in any part of India, and that this direction should be communicated to the Director-General of Police. If anyone violated this, he or she would do so at his or her peril, including the Speaker.

"Two things stand out," Mr. Ram said. "First, our confidence in the Supreme Court as the upholder of freedom of the press stands vindicated. Secondly, how much the press and news media mean to our system is centrestaged."

The Editor-in-Chief said that it was settled law that all constitutional controversies were subject to interpretation and adjudication by the higher judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court, and that no legislative body could insist that its decisions affecting fundamental rights were not subjected to this power.

Mr. Ram said there were questions being raised on why the five members did not get arrested and try to come out on bail. He said the police could not be trusted and there was no question of taking chances. There was concern about the health of Mr. Rangarajan (Publisher). There was also concern about the way the Executive Editor, Malini Parthasarathy, might be treated. Referring to the Speaker's statement on Sunday claiming that the order of arrest was not scripted by the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, he wondered whether the Speaker had the power to send the police to other States. The police had fanned out all over the southern States and to Delhi looking for the journalists.

Recalling the Bangalore incident where the car in which he and the Joint Managing Director, N. Murali, were travelling was intercepted by the police, he said had the police shown papers it would have been an arguable case of propriety on their part. Instead, they chose to "run away like thieves". Mr. Ram said The Hindu had been a target of the State Government for some time now. The 16 criminal defamation cases and one civil suit filed against The Hindu, "in my opinion are all totally baseless." The Hindu will take a fresh look at the legal strategies to tackle these cases, he added.

Codification of privileges of legislative bodies, criminal defamation and criminal contempt of court were serious questions that needed to be addressed, he said. The State administration, he said, had lost the battle in the first stage. "The order was a violation of press freedom, the personal liberties of all those against whom arrest warrants were issued, and the principles of natural justice."

Mr. Ram's entry just past noon into the premises of The Hindu, was marked by the bursting of crackers and thunderous applause, as he made his way to the porch through a crowd of the newspaper's employees who welcomed him with the traditional `ponnadai.'

The Editor-in-Chief said he would first like to express gratitude to The Hindu's employees who stood firm on this issue. He noted that everyone involved, including his brother, N. Ravi, Malini Parthasarathy, S. Rangarajan, Chief of Bureau, V.Jayanth, and Special Correspondent, Radha Venkatesan, worked together in response to this challenge.

He thanked mediapersons first for their interest in the issue and then for their show of solidarity. "Political and Constitutional India would not have been sensitised to this extent to the issues at stake without the intense interest taken by the media." Starting with the Tamil press, and covering newspapers, radio, television, across the country, plus the online media, the news media had brought the issues to centrestage, he noted, adding: "I stand in awe before the power of the press and the news media of this country."

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