Find acceptable solution to resolution against scribes, HC tells government

Find acceptable solution to resolution against scribes, HC tells government
The High Court of Karnataka on Thursday asked the state government to find an “acceptable solution” with regard to a resolution adopted by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly against two journalists.

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

The Assembly had sentenced the two editors 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 K B Koliwad, who is now the Speaker and S R Vishwanath (BJP MLA, Yelahanka), raising objections to some of the articles published in their respective magazines.

During the hearing, Justice Ashok B Hinchigeri sought to know from the state government if the court can intervene in the matter as the resolution adopted by the Assembly is being questioned.

He sought to know the provisions of 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.

“Find out if the Speaker can keep the resolution under abeyance or should the House meet,” the court asked.

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 one of his clients. He said Belagere has not received any notice. However, Anil Raj had appeared before the privilege committee and had tendered an unconditional apology. Despite this, he was sentenced.

Additional Advocate General A S Ponnanna, citing many notices issued to Belagere, said that none of the notices received any replies. He said one Umesh Hegde, associated with Belagere, had appeared before the committee and sought an opportunity to be heard.

Hegde had said that Belagere was in Chennai and was unable to appear to reply to the notice. He said Anil Raj did apologise and the next day 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 the Assembly had acted according to various Articles dealing with the power and privileges of the House of Parliament under the Constitution of India.
When the petitioners’ counsel sought directions to the government not to arrest the editors, the judge said that it was not a bail petition.

The judge asked the state government that if both the editors appeared and tendered an unconditional apology for remaining absent and cooperate, would the resolution be reconsidered.

Justice Hinchigeri said that not appearing despite the notices is “disdainful disobedience” on the part of the editors. “The editors have invited trouble for themselves. The fourth estate (the Press) have all the liberty and freedom, but they should also ensure that they do not go below the belt,” the judge observed.

The judge, quoting British philosopher John Stuart Mill, said that freedom of speech does not allow anyone to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre.

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