The Assembly had sentenced the scribes to one-year of imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 for alleged defamatory articles.

HC asks Ktaka govt to come to acceptable agreement with journalists sentenced by Assembly
news Law Friday, June 30, 2017 - 09:39

The Karnataka High Court, on Thursday, asked the state government to find an “acceptable solution” to the issue of two journalists being sentenced to prison by the Assembly.

Editor of the Kannada weekly ‘Hai Bengalur’ Ravi Belagere and editor of a local magazine ‘Voice of Yelahanka’ Anil Raj moved the court seeking to quash the resolution.

The Assembly had sentenced the scribes to one-year of imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 10,000. 

The chairman of the privileges committee acted upon a complaint by Ranebennur MLA KB Koliwad, who is now the Speaker and SR Vishwanath (BJP MLA, Yelahanka), raising objections to some of the articles published in their respective magazines.

Justice Ashok B Hinchigeri asked the Karnataka government if the court can intervene in such a matter as the resolution adopted by the Assembly is being questioned. He sought to know the provisions of the law under which the Assembly has taken the decision and if there were any guidelines to decide on the quantum of punishment for breach of privilege, the Times of India reported

The court asked the government to find out if the Speaker can keep the resolution under abeyance or if the House should meet again.

Shankarappa, the counsel appearing for Belagere and Anil Raj, filed an application about the Speaker's office denying certified copies of the resolution and the reports of the privilege motion. The judge directed the government to provide the counsel with the document in two weeks. 

The petitioners’ counsel said that the Assembly adopted the resolution without issuing notices to Belagere. However, Anil Raj had appeared before the privilege committee and offered an unconditional apology, despite which, he was sentenced.

Additional Advocate General A S Ponnanna, said that multiple notices were sent to Belagere, to which no replies were received. He said one Umesh Hegde, associated with Belagere, had appeared before the committee and sought an opportunity to be heard. 

According to Ponnanna, Hegde had said that Belagere was in Chennai and was unable to appear to reply to the notice. He had said that Anil Raj did apologise and the very next day he wrote another article defaming the elected representative. 

Ponnanna said that the Supreme Court has ruled that in such defamation cases, Article 19 (freedom of speech) does not apply. He said that the Assembly had “acted according to various Articles dealing with the power and privileges of the House of Parliament under the Constitution of India.”

The court dismissed the petitioner’s plea asking not to arrest the journalists, and the judge said that it was not a bail hearing. The judge asked the state government if the the resolution be reconsidered if both the editors appeared and tendered an unconditional apology for not appearing in court.

Justice Hinchigeri noted that not appearing despite the notices being issued is “disdainful disobedience” on the part of the editors.

“The editors have invited trouble for themselves. The fourth estate has all the liberty and freedom, but they should also ensure that they do not go below the belt,” the judge observed. 

The judge quoted British philosopher John Stuart Mill and said that freedom of speech does not allow anyone to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre and asked the parties to come to an acceptable agreement.