‘Meghalaya High Court order to fine journalists is intimidatory & undermines press freedom,’ Editors Guild expressed its dissent on Meghalaya High Court order fining editor and publisher of The Shillong Times.
Shillong Times Questions Court Order
In existence since 1945, The Shillong Times’ editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shobha Chaudhuri were held in contempt of the court by Justice SR Sen on March 8. The court imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each, if not paid within a week, the order said, the paper will be banned and the guilty will be imprisoned for six months.
The order came in the light of two stories that The Shillong times published in December about a court order.
Two reports, headlined “High Court pursues retirement benefits to judges, family” and “When judges judge for themselves”, were published on December 6, 2018, and December 10, 2018 respectively which focussed on a court order by Justice Sen seeking better facilities for retired judges and their families.
Judges Say Defamatory
The bench headed by Chief Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice SR Sen observed that the article titled “When judges judge for themselves” was untrue and was defamatory. Below is the excerpt of the article that the court believed insinuated that the judgement was delivered by Justice Sen because he was set to retire.
“In the recent order, Justice SR Sen, who is set to retire in March, wanted several facilities for the retired chief justice and judges, their spouses and children. Besides providing medical facilities for the spouses and children, the order stressed the need for providing protocol, guest houses, domestic help, mobile/internet charge at the rate of Rs 10,000 and mobile for Rs. 80,000 for judges”.
Ruling on the contempt case, the court said that the judgment by Justice Sen was necessitated due to the withdrawal of retirement benefits to the judges by the government.
Justice SR Sen said the report is derogatory to the judge who is handling the case as well as the entire judges’ community.
On February 1, Mukhim and Chaudhuri issued an ‘unconditional apology’. The court, however, refused to accept the apology saying it was merely a calculated strategy to avoid punishment for contempt of court.
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help them with the legal fee or to assist them to pay the fine, in case they lose the case..
Editors Guild Slams the Order
The Editors Guild said that the judiciary instead of upholding press freedom has issued an order that goes against freedom of expression.
Also Read: “Attempt To Silence”: Over 100 Activists Condemn Contempt Notice Against Prashant Bhushan