The order, which empowered secretaries to sue media houses for ‘false, defamatory and baseless’ news, was heavily opposed.

The High Court of Andhra Pradesh at AmaravatiFile photo: Picxy
news Court Tuesday, June 02, 2020 - 09:03

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has struck down a petition challenging a controversial government order issued by the YSRCP government, empowering bureaucrats to sue media organisations for ‘false, baseless and defamatory’ reports. The petition had been filed by Uppala Lakshman, a senior journalist.

The government order had issued orders delegating powers to secretaries of various departments to lodge complaints, and file defamation cases, through a public prosecutor, against media houses.

These powers, which were previously held by the Special Commissioner, Information and Public Relations Department, were delegated to secretaries through the order, with the claim that their thorough knowledge of the affairs of their department made them more suitable to order inquiries to verify news reports, and to issue rejoinders and file complaints and lodge cases.

The order, which was issued in October 2019, was met with severe opposition from journalists’ unions, civil society organisations and opposition parties. The YSRCP government argued that filing cases would be the last report, and that the process would begin with issuing rejoinders.

Responding to the criticism, state Minister for I&PR Perni Venkataramaiah had said that the government was “helpless”, as media houses were publishing negative news when the government was still “brand new”. “We thought we should at least be able to go for defamation because the department heads will know the facts,” Venkataramaiah had said.

Earlier in November, the court had asked the state government to file a counter-affidavit in response to the PIL. In its reply, the state government has said that the powers “cannot be apprehended so as to take only criminal action, but any action available under law.”

The response also said that the order is not meant to “restrict the freedom of the press, access to sources of information, freedom of publication and freedom of circulation”. The response also said that the order was intended to ensure that “news items be published ensuring the responsibilities and ethics”.

In its verdict, the HC bench said that interference in the matter is not warranted, considering the government’s response. 

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