SC notice to centre on Zee News plea

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 12, 2013 14:40 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice to the central government on a petition by Zee News TV channel alleging an "unholy conspiracy" and seeking the quashing of three FIRs lodged against it by Delhi Police.

The apex court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice Vikramajit Sen issued notice as senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for the channel, told the court that three FIRs were filed against the news channel, on its report on coal blocks allocation, at the instance of industrialist and Congress Lok Sabha member Naveen Jindal.

Salve told the court that "it is obvious that Naveen Jindal and Delhi Police are acting in an unholy conspiracy in the matter".

The channel also questioned some clauses of the policy guidelines providing for content code of the broadcasts and its adherence for uninterrupted uplinking and downlinking facilities of the television channels.

The policy guidelines regulating the content of the TV broadcasts impinged upon the freedom of speech, Salve said.

Describing the filing of the three FIRs as a "brazen attempt by somebody pushing the police to act in a particular way", Salve urged the court to either quash them or transfer their investigation to some other agency.

One of the FIRs filed Oct 2, 2012 at 11.50 p.m. alleges attempts by the management of the Zee News to extort money from the management of Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL), a company owned by the MP.

The second FIR, filed Jan 4, pertains to carrying the interview of the friend of Delhi gang-rape victim in which her name was disclosed. The third FIR of Jan 15 relates to the complaint of Jindal Steel.

The entire case is rooted in alleged linkage of JSPL with the coal blocks allocation irregularities highlighted by the government auditor's report that alleged a loss of Rs.1.85 lakh crore to the exchequer.

Assailing clause 5 of the policy guidelines that provides for the code to control and monitoring the content of the news channels' reports, Salve said: "in the idea of democracy and free press, government can't control the contents of the channel broadcast".

Salve told the court that if there was anything defamatory in the channel reports then there were legal remedies but the government could not control the content of the broadcasts.

The guidelines under challenge clearly "abrogate the right to free speech and fell outside the ambit of permissible limits on the right to free speech under Article 19(2) of the constitution", Salve said.

The constitutional rights could only be restricted by the parliamentary statute and not by the government orders, the court was told.

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