Another threat to Media

Meghalaya High Court
File photo


An order passed by the High Court of Meghalaya on March 8 holding Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shobha Chaudhuri guilty of contempt, and then passing orders awarding them punishment has attracted countrywide attention. The newspaper which is on the verge of completing 75 glorious years, had on December 10, 2018 published an article titled ‘When Judges judge for themselves’in which it referred to an order by Justice S R Sen regarding providing certain facilities to retired judges and their families. The High Court, which took up a case of contempt of court against the newspaper, its editor and publisher for the above-mentioned stories, also drew in certain remarks that the editor had posted on social media, and after hearing both sides passed an order wherein it sentenced both editor Mukhim an publisher Chaudhuri – the contemnors – “to sit in the corner of the Court room till the rising of the Court and impose a fine of Rs. 2,00,000/-(Rupees two lakhs) each which is to be deposited with the Registry within a week and then to be deposited in the welfare fund of his High Court. ” Chief Justice Mohammed Yaqoob Mir and Justice S R Sen, in their judgment also said, “We also further direct that 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 judgment has evoked strong protests from media organizsations all over. The Editors’ Guild of India has called it “intimidatory” and undermines the freedom of press. Guild president Shekhar Gupta, in a statement in New Delhi said, “The order, which among other things imposes a fine along with a threat of imprisonment and a ban on the publication, is intimidatory and undermines press freedom. It is ironical that the judiciary which should uphold press freedom has instead issued an order that militates against freedom of expression.” The Indian Express on the other hand has described it as ‘a serious threat to the press.’ The newspaper that is known for upholding press freedom even during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, has also said that while the ‘quality of mercy appears to be strained’ despite the editor tendering an unconditional apology. It has also termed the sentence of punishment as ‘out of scale with the newspaper reports’ described the threat to terminate one of the oldest newspapers of the region as constituting ‘an attack on the press’ itself, and called the order regrettable.Yes, the order is unfortunate, and requires to be reconsidered and reviewed.