SRINAGAR: The J&K high court on Thursday quashed a 2018 FIR filed against TOI journalist
Mohammad Saleem Pandit
, accusing him of "intent to cause fear or alarm among the public" by reporting incidents of stone-pelting on tourists at several places across the Valley during the fag end of the erstwhile Mehbooba Mufti government's term.
In a 15-page judgment, Justice Sanjay Dhar termed the FIR registered at
police station under Section 505(1)b of the now-defunct Ranbir Panel Code as being "absolutely vague" in terms of establishing that successive news reports published in TOI on April 1 and 2, 2018, induced anyone "to commit an offence against the state".
On the allegation that TOI's reportage on stone-pelting "threatened" the 2018 tourist season in J&K, the ruling states, "The question that arises is whether fearless and frank reporting of events/incidents in a newspaper would merely for the
that the persons engaged in a particular business feel that their business would get adversely impacted by such news reports, attract Section 505 of the Ranbir Panel Code. The answer to this question has to be in the negative because reporting events which a journalist has bona fide reason to believe to be true, can never be an offence."
The FIR had been lodged on the basis of a complaint by a group of travel operators in the Valley.
"In the instant case , the complaint does not disclose the particulars of any such person who has been induced to commit an offence against the state because (of) the publication of the news report(s) in question. In fact, it is not even alleged that anybody has been induced by the news report(s) in question to commit an offence against the state. The contents of the FIR, which is based upon a complaint filed by some association of travel agents, are...devoid of any particulars," the ruling states.
Justice Dhar goes on to elaborate how insinuating that a genuine news report has intent to harm a business can be treated as impinging on free speech. "Taking a contrary view would be violative of the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Fair and frank reporting of events by electronic and print media cannot be curbed merely because it may have an adverse impact on business of some class of persons. The freedom of speech and expression, which includes within its ambit freedom of the press, is subject only to reasonable restrictions imposed by law for specific purpose."
Advocate Salih Pirzada, who represented the petitioner, had cited various judgments while arguing for the FIR to be quashed