Author: Vanisha Mishra , Institute of law
Legal Journalism refers to specialist reporting in the realm of all things concerning the legal notion. It is distinguished from ‘court reporting,' which is considered a kind of beat reporting and does not require a legal education from the reporter.
The prospects for legal journalism in India are vast, with a wide variety of cases being filed, contested, and settled every hour. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, television stations, and news studios all have qualified and experienced legal journalists to cover both civil and criminal cases. Moreover, legal journalism is also required to keep a check over the policies of the government, such that they don’t infringe on anybody’s rights, or are in violation of the law. It is not a normal check on the use of the powers by the government, rather, it is a check which is more fundamental in nature and ensures that basic tenets of the functioning machinery of the state are in place.
WHAT CONSTITUTES SEDITION?
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition as an offence committed when "any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India".
Interpretation - “Disaffection” mentioned in the definition encompasses all feelings of hostility and disloyalty. Moreover, comments that do not incite or attempt to incite hatred, scorn, or disdain shall not be considered an offence under this clause.
PUNISHMENT: Sedition is a crime that cannot be punished with a fine. The penalty under Section 124A can vary from a three-year jail sentence to a life sentence, plus a fine. A person charged under this statute is prohibited from working for the government. They are forced to live without their passports and must appear in court whenever they are summoned.
DEVELOPMENT OF SEDITION LAW
Section 124A was not originally included in the IPC and was only added in 1870 to Chapter IV which deals with crimes against the state. This induction occurred during the rise of the Wahhabi Movement, which sought to undermine British control.
This debate and controversy over the sedition law was exemplified by one of the most famous sedition trials in Indian history, namely the case of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was charged three times under the statute. His cases also resulted in various amendments to the text of sedition law with attempts to achieve a balance between sedition and the freedom to criticise the government.
During the colonial period, the all-powerful colonial authorities utilised the sedition statute to silence the Indian freedom struggle. As a result, it was only reasonable for individuals who had been harmed by the law to demand that it be removed from the IPC as well as any word associated with sedition. What transpired, on the other hand, was just the opposite. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and C. Rajgopalchari, two of the most powerful members of the Constituent Assembly, desired seditious speech limitations while others wanted all limitations removed. Despite the fact that the Constituent Assembly considered sedition and freedom of speech extensively, the contentious section 124A of the IPC remains.
From the early years of the State, the legislation has been utilised to suppress any dissent or political opposition in the post-colonial period. As sedition charges were levelled against activists and political opponents one after another in the years after Independence, the High Courts and the Supreme Court attempted to strike a balance between the Indian Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech and expression and offences against the Indian state.
COURT’S STANCE ON SEDITION –
In its judgments in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras in 1950, the Supreme Court addressed debates concerning sedition; the court ruled that a regulation restricting speech on the grounds that it might disrupt public order was unconstitutional in certain situations. It further stated that disrupting public order is tantamount to harming the State's foundations or threatening its overthrow.
As a result of these verdicts, the First Constitution Amendment was enacted, which changed Article 19 (2) to read "in the interest of public order" instead of "undermining the security of the state."
In Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar, the Supreme Court ruled on the legality of Section 124A in 1962. It supported sedition's validity but confined its scope to acts having the intent or tendency to cause disruption, disturbance of law and order, or instigation to violence. These were separated from "extremely aggressive speech" or the employment of "vigorous language" that were harshly critical of the administration.
In Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, the Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that simple sloganeering that elicited no public response did not constitute sedition.
HOW CAN LEGAL JOURNALISM PUT AN END TO THE ARBITRARINESS OF SEDITION LAW?
Legal Journalists are well versed with the laws and the possible effects it could have on the people. Thus, they very well hold the power to question the arbitrariness of sedition law and also reach out to a wider range of people who could come in support to put some kind of restriction on the law. Moreover, legal journalists also play a very important role in filing PILs and making authorities aware about a possible flaw that a particular law could have. So they act as a critic to keep a check on the efficient working of law and order in the country. Thus, legal journalism can play a pivotal role here by acting as a pressure group on the government, to keep in check their policies as well as highlighting the flaws in the law so that it could be amended for the greater good of the people.
Sedition has the effect of stifling free speech resulting in self-censorship. It prevents citizens from doing what they should in a democracy: asking questions, debating, disagreeing, and challenging the government's judgments. Sedition gradually undermines Gandhi's philosophy's soul, namely, the liberty to dissent. Especially, when legal journalists question any law or policy, it is a source of unnecessary trouble and fear for that individual to come up and speak for the benefit of common people. Also, the terminology stated under Section 124A, such as "disaffection" are ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations depending on the investigating officers' whims and fancies. This can lead to arbitrary use of this section by the government to silence any dissent and acquire absolute power and authority which cannot be subjected to criticism by anyone. Thus, Section 124A should not be utilised to stifle free expression. The concept of sedition should be restricted to exclusively cover matters relating to India's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The term "sedition" has a lot of complexity and should be used very carefully as it usually has a mass deterrent effect on free expression, which is the very essence of our democracy.
 ‘The Great Repression’: The history of sedition in India (nationalheraldindia.com)  Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (case citation: AIR 1973 SC 1461) Golaknath v. State Of Punjab (1967 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR (2) 762) Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan ( case citation: 1965 AIR 845, 1965 SCR (1) 933) Shankari Prasad vs Union of India (AIR 1951 SC 455)  1950 AIR 129, 1950 SCR 605  1950 AIR 124, 1950 SCR 594  AIR 1962 SC 955  (1995) 3 SCC 214