While refusing anticipatory bail to a Malayalam YouTube news channel ‘Marunadan Malayalee’ editor Shajan Skariah for allegedly broadcasting derogatory news item against MLA Sreenijin, the Kerala High Court on Friday expressed concerns over the changing character of journalism.
“The four W’s of journalism that used to guide journalists in their reporting and helped in ensuring accuracy and completeness of news stories are: Who, What, When and Where. The four W’s and sometimes the fifth “Why” used to serve as a framework for journalists to gather information. Videos like the one under consideration makes one wonder whether the W’s have been replaced with D’s; Defame, Denigrate, Damnify and Destroy,” the Single Judge Bench of Justice V.G. Arun mused.
The appellant-accused Skaria had telecasted a news item regarding alleged mal-administration of Sports Hostel at the instance of Sreenijin, in his capacity as the Chairman, District Sports Council. Skaria was aggrieved by denial of anticipatory bail by the Special Court after registration of criminal complaint against him by the MLA under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The prosecution case against Skaria was that the said news item contained false, baseless and defamatory allegations against the de facto complainant, who belongs to the scheduled caste, with an intention to insult him. It was further alleged that the said news item promoted feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will against members of the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe.
The Special Court found the allegations levelled by Skaria against the MLA to be insulting and defamatory. It also found that Skaria had knowledge that the de-facto complainant belongs to scheduled caste community, and held that publication of the news item containing derogatory comments was sufficient to attract the offence alleged under the SC/ST Act.
The Court in the present appeal noted that Skaria labelled the MLA as a ‘Mafia Don’, levelled allegations of murder, insinuations against the MLA’s father in law (a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India) and even cast aspersions on unnamed judicial officers.
“As such, it can unhesitatingly be held that the video contains insults, which are intended to humiliate the second respondent in public view,” the Court observed.
The Court was however of the opinion that the question as to whether the offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 would find application herein, in the absence of reference to the caste status of the second respondent in the news item, could not be decided without due regard to the object behind the enactment and the amending Act in 2019. Section 3(1)(r) contemplates instances wherein a victim has been insulted and humiliated by reason of being a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
The Court observed that the statute had been enacted for preventing the commission of atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and to establish Special Courts for the trial of such offences and provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims of such offences. It further observed that the Act was amended in 2019 on finding that, despite various measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of the scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they still remained vulnerable.
The Court thus found that the materials on record indicated that the video was intended to insult and humiliate the second respondent.
“At this stage, the court can only go by the allegations in the complaint and the attendant circumstances. The allegation is specific to the effect that the appellant has been insulting and humiliating the second respondent only for the reason that he belongs to the Scheduled Caste,” the Court noted.
It added that as per Section 3(1)(r) of the Act, 1989, reference to the caste name of the victim is not necessary for attracting the offence.
“As such, it is not possible to hold that there are no prima facie materials to attract the offence under Section 3(1)(r),” the Court held.
It accordingly refrained from deciding whether the offence under Section 3(1)(u) of the Act, 1989, which criminalises any communication that promotes or attempts to promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe is applicable, in view of its finding on Section 3(1)(r).
The appeal was thus dismissed.
The appellant was represented by Senior Advocate P. Vijaya Bhanu, Advocates Thomas J. Anakkallunkal, Jayaraman S., Litty Peter, Anupa Anna Jose Kandoth, Melba Mary Santhosh, Sruthy K.K., P.M. Rafiq, M. Revikrishnan, Ajeesh K. Sasi, Sruthy N. Bhat, Rahul Sunil, and Nikita J. Mendez, . Senior Government Pleader S. Saju, Senior Government Pleader and Additional Public Prosecutor Salil Narayanan, DGP T.A. Shaji, and Advocates P.K. Varghese, K.S. Arun Kumar, M.T. Sameer, Dhanesh V. Madhavan, Jerry Mathew, and Reghu Sreedharan appeared on behalf of the respondents.
Case Title: Shajan Skaria v. State of Kerala
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 298
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