SC stays Meghalaya HC judgment holding Editor and Publisher of Shillong Times guilty of contempt

Supreme Court: The Court has stayed the Meghalaya High Court judgment holding The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shoba Chaudhuri guilty of contempt. The High Court had also imposed a fine of Rs. 2 lakhs each on both the contemnors.

Backdrop

The Government of Meghalaya decided to withdraw the protocol services provided to retired Judges and their family members without consulting the High Court. The Chief Justice convened a meeting of Government Officers concerned wherein they were asked to immediately restore the protocol services to retired Judges and their family members. However, no action was taken for 2 months and consequently, a suo motu proceeding was endorsed to the Court to take up the matter. Notice was issued but since the Government remained silent, the Court passed the necessary order ordering the Government to comply with its directions within a month. This order is at heart of the controversy. Report, dated 10-12-2018, captioned “When Judges judge for themselves” were published in Shillong Times, an English daily newspaper. Referring to the aforementioned order, the Report stated,

Justice SR Sen, who is set to retire in March, wanted several facilities for the retired chief justice and judges, their spouses and children“.

Furthermore, Patricia Mukhim took the help of social media where, according to the Court, she even went to extent of mocking judicial system of this country and passed certain remarks against the Amicus Curiae which, according to the Court, insulted members of the Bar.

Meghalaya High Court Judgment

Exercising power under Article 215, the Court sentenced the contemnors to sit in the corner of the Courtroom till rising of the Court. A fine of Rs 2 lakhs each was also imposed which was to be deposited with the Registry within a week. Further, “in default of payment, both the contemnors will have to undergo 6(six) months simple imprisonment and the paper so-called ‘Shillong Times’ will automatically come to an end (banned)”

The furious Court said:

“We would like to ask whether the contemnor, Patricia Mukhim wants to control the judiciary as per her desire and will? If it is so, she is very much wrong”. 

The Bench of Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, CJ and S.R. Sen, J, further said:

“The sacred duty of the media is to publish correct news, so that the actual fact reaches the people. They are not at all entitled to write as they like and slur the image of an individual or institution. The contemnors here must remember that though, they have the right to publish news and sell their papers, but it is limited, subject to their duties. They are not supposed to file any report without understanding the background of the case or verifying the truth. Only true news should be published not the false report and if anybody violates, they are liable for defamation and contempt of Courts”.

Statement Issued by Editors Guild of India

Deeply distressed over the Meghalaya High Court judgment, the Editor’s Guild of India issued a Statement where it urged the judiciary to exercise its constitutional powers with utmost caution and care so that the role of a free media in a democracy is duly respected. It said:

“It is ironical that the judiciary which should uphold press freedom has instead issued an order that militates against freedom of expression.”

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