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SEDITION LAW AND LEGAL JOURNALISM


Author: Vanisha Mishra , Institute of law

Nirma University







INTRODUCTION

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.[1]

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.


PRESENT SCENARIO

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.[2]



COURT’S STANCE ON SEDITION –

In its judgments in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhi[3] and Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras[4] 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[5], 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[6], 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?