Issues arising out of the Mumbai attacks have made their way to the Supreme Court. A few days ago, Law and Other Things reported that Mr. Soli Sorabjee had filed a Writ Petition praying for directions to the Government to improve the security apparatus in the country, maintain a centralized system of intelligence, etc. The petition can be accessed here (thanks to Law and Other Things for making this available).
Another Petition has been filed by Advocates Shekhar Devasa and K.V. Dhananjay which names the Union of India as well as several news channels as Respondents. The Petition seeks a direction to the Government to restrain the news channels from “facilitating or relaying communication from suspected or apprehended terrorists to their viewers in
Both the Petitions rely to some extent at least on the expanded meaning of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. I am unsure about whether the Court will actually issue any directions in any of the petitions – the government is not particularly likely to adopt a combative posture at least on Mr. Sorabjee’s petition.
The second Petition raises an interesting argument relating to the fundamental right to peaceful existence of citizens on the basis of a conjoint reading of several provisions in Part III of the Constitution. Also, if the Court hears this one on the merits, we may well see debates over the freedom of the press vis-à-vis national security. I am quite skeptical as to whether the Court will pass the orders prayed for, but the broader question is interesting – can the government pass a directive preventing a news channel from broadcasting a call it receives from a terrorist without such a directive amounting to an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression? The petition draws the following analogy:
If a citizen of our country were to install a loudspeaker in a crowded market and relay messages originating from one or more banned terrorist outfits, say, from the Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK), he clearly commits the offence of aiding and supporting an assault upon the State and its people even if the content of the message itself is not inflammatory per se. The laws governing such conduct do not apply with equal force to the registered media and the media is subject to a lesser restriction in the hope of furthering democratic goals of facilitating free exchange of views and opinion. However, the liberty confirmed upon the media in our country has resulted in them practically abandoning much discretion in the matter of reporting upon terrorism and competitive pressures have virtually pushed them to compete for ‘scaring the most’.
(Please note that this in NOT the only argument raised by the Petitioners; see the petition at the above link for a fuller description of the arguments.)
I invite the opinions of readers on this aspect, as also on the aspect of whether the Court would be justified in passing the order prayed for.
(Meanwhile, also see this rather strong post by Aditya Swarup over at The Social Blog criticising Mr. Sorabjee's petition on 'excessive activism' grounds. While I do not agree with everything he says in it, it is an interesting read.)