The Supreme Court on Wednesday took up for hearing, the case seeking quashing of FIR against journalist Vinod Dua filed on allegations of sedition, promotion of communal enmity etc. over his YouTube videos.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued for the State of Himachal Pradesh, the state where the FIR was first registered against Dua before a Justice UU Lalit led bench.
Stating that the broadcasted videos of Dua on his youtube channel triggered mass migrations and led to panic amongst migrants, the law officer said that there is no vindictiveness or mala fide in the FIR registered against the journalist.
Justice Lalit orally said that though the SG was arguing that as a result of an episode by Dua, aired on youtube channel, people started migrating, it is pertinent to note that migration issue is more or less from UP & Bihar and the FIR was filed in Himachal.
SG responded by saying that Electronic media has a wide reach and even though Dua had only 10 lac viewers on his youtube channel, the ramifications of having a video "inciting" people to migrate and leave their homes amid a disaster were disastrous.
SG: The situation created as such was that people may not migrate but were panic-stricken. To hear Govt has no resources would lead to panic. That is enough to attract an offence in this situation.
Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani argued on behalf of the complainant who had filed the FIR against Dua in Shimla. He said that Dua, who was claiming to be a media person, was undeserving of any preliminary inquiry. "There have been other broadcasts where he has used the pandemic to incite people," he argued.
Jethmalani: This gentleman (Dua) is not even a registered Press man. Incites people to become violent.
Next, he touched upon the source of funding to Dua's website, contending that even though, the owner company, Theo Connect Pvt. Ltd. had a paid up capital of 5 lac INR, the company had unsecured loans of Rs. 5 Crores. "Who are these benevolent people who have put so much faith in him?," he said.
While touching upon the Norms of Journalistic conduct issued by the Press Council of India, Jethmalani said that no heed was paid upon them by Dua.
Jethmalani: These are his own profession's prescribes rules of code of conduct which he abrogated while reporting on a disaster. Ethics for reporting on natural calamities stipulated in norms. These have to be verified and then published with due restraint, without exaggerations.
Urging the Court to take note of the fact that unverified facts based on surmises and personal biases were presented by Dua on his Youtube channel in not one but four broadcasts.
Further to this, Jethmalani argued that the Government had tried its level best to cater to the surging demands that the pandemic brought with, be it food, medical supplies and amenities but Dua was making false claims that the Government did not even have food.
Jethmalani: The Government wanted every state govt's and UT's to take necessary steps to publicise that food, medical and other essential services Will be maintained. I want to add that there are no food shortages till today. We have bumper stocks with us today.
The Court will continue hearing the case on September 18, 2020.
On July 7, top court directed the Himachal Pradesh police to file status report in a sealed cover with requisite details within a week in the ongoing investigation against Journalist Vinod Dua on charges of sedition.
The bench had also orally observed on the said date that once the details of investigation are placed before court and if the court is satisfied with the journalist's contentions, the Court will quash the FIR "straight away".
"If we are satisfied that contention raised by petitioner is correct, we will quash the FIR straight away", observed the Court, posting the matter to July 15. The interim protection from arrest, granted on June 14, has been extended till the next date of hearing.
Dua is facing FIRs from multiple states, including the most recent ones in Maharashtra and West Bengal.
An FIR was registered against Dua in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh whereby he was summoned by the Shimla Police in connection with a sedition charge levelled against him by local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ajay Shyam.
Senior Advocate Vikas Singh argued on behalf of Dua and stated that his client was being harassed for exercising his constitutional right of Freedom of Speech.
On June 14, following Directions were passed by the Bench;
a) Pending further orders, the petitioner shall not be arrested in connection with the present crime;
(b) However, the petitioner in terms of the offer made by him in his communication dated 12.06.2020, shall extend full cooperation through Video Conferencing or Online mode; and
(c) The Himachal Pradesh Police shall be entitled to carry on the investigation including interrogation of the petitioner at his residence after giving him prior notice of 24 hours and complying with the Social Distancing norms prescribed during Covid-19 Pandemic.
The bench had then refused to stay the investigation, despite fervent pleas by Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for Dua.
Singh said that the FIR was a "harassment" for airing views unpalatable to the government.
"If what Dua said is sedition, then only two channels can function in the country", he submitted.
The summons by Shimla police came two days after the Delhi High Court stayed an FIR filed against Dua for allegedly spreading fake news through his YouTube show on communal violence in Delhi in February. The FIR filed in Shimla is also related to the show.