The Supreme Court today put on hold Andhra Pradesh's action against two TV channels and issued notice to the state government asserting, "It's time we define limits of sedition."
The Andhra Pradesh government should not take any coercive steps against Telugu news channels TV 5 and ABN Andhra Jyoti, the Supreme Court said.
"The Andhra Pradesh government's act of filing sedition cases against the channels is muffling channels. It is time the court defines sedition," said Justice DY Chandrachud.
"We are of the view that the ambit and parameters of the provisions of Sections 124A, 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (dealing with sedition) would require interpretation, particularly in the context of the right of the electronic and print media to communicate news, information and the rights, even those that may be critical of the prevailing regime in any part of the nation," said the judges.
At a separate hearing on Covid vaccination, the word "sedition" came up again in a caustic remark by Justice Chandrachud.
Justice L Nageswara Rao noted that pictures of "a dead body being picked up and thrown in a river" were seen on TV yesterday. NDTV had shown the shocking visuals of the body, apparently of a Covid patient, being flung into the river by relatives.
Justice Chandrachud said, "Yes. There was picture of body being lifted and thrown into river. I do not know whether complaint of sedition filed against the news channel for showing it."
The Andhra TV channels were charged in an FIR with sedition allegedly for airing the comments of a rebel MP of Andhra Pradesh's ruling YSR Congress, Kanumuri Raghurama Krishnam Raju. Mr Raju had been very critical of his own government's handling of Covid.
The news channels challenged the FIR before the Supreme Court, arguing that the Andhra government had violated a recent court order that restrained governments from punishing citizens for flagging Covid-related grievances.
TV5 also said Mr Raju's speeches were broadcast by several media outlets.
The MP, Mr Raju, was arrested on May 14, weeks after he asked a CBI special court to cancel the bail granted to his party founder, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, in a disproportionate assets case.
The Supreme Court granted bail to him on May 21, saying there was a possibility he was "ill-treated in custody".
In March, the Supreme Court had said that expressing views that were dissenting and different from government opinion cannot be termed "sedition".
The case involved a petition's allegation that Jammu and Kashmir MP Farooq Abdullah had sought the help of China and Pakistan against India on Article 370 on special status for Jammu and Kashmir, which was scrapped in August 2019.