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3 newspapers face SC for contempt over wrong AFSPA report, as LiveLaw avoids action with deft apology

In the ongoing Extra Judicial Execution of Victim Families Association vs Union of India, being heard by justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit, the Attorney General had alleged that an article published in The People’s Chronicle (English) and Poknapham (Manipuri) carried certain “highly objectionable statements” by Babloo Loitongbam, who has been reporting the case.

The bench found the tone and tenor of the statement made by him to be “in the nature of threatening the Supreme Court”.

Loitongbam, who was present in the court on 14 January, told the bench that with reference to the article published in The People’s Chronicle on 12 December, 2015, he was misquoted by the publisher of the newspaper.

The court, therefore, directed issue of summons to the Editor, Gurumayum Bhabesh Chandra Sharma and the Publisher, Smt Gurumayum Shanti Kumari Devi, for their personal appearance in the court on 12 February at 3 pm.

The bench said in its order that the publication contains a “threat not only to this Court but also to the AGI”. “These persons will also identify the journalist who has written the article, which is the subject matter of consideration”, the order said.

The bench agreed to consider Loitongbam’s affidavit, after hearing the editor and publisher of the People’s Chronicle.

The bench asked Loitongbam too to be present on 12 February at 3 pm.

The hearing in this case is almost complete, with the counsel for the respondents having concluded their submissions. The amicus curiae Menaka Guruswamy, made some written submissions.

She told the bench that she would file a composite written submission in a day or two.

As counsel for the petitioners requested for some time to argue the matter and to give some clarifications sought by the respondents, the bench has agreed to list the matter at 10:30am as part-heard matters on 20 January.

On 13 January, Harish V Nair, Senior Assistant Editor of Mail Today, who was present in the court, tendered an unconditional apology for an incorrect report of the court’s proceedings in the case, which was published in the newspaper on 11 December, 2015. He promised the bench that he would also publish his apology in a box item on the front page of the newspaper after getting the approval of AG The bench has agreed to take up his affidavit for consideration after the apology is published.

The bench also considered the affidavits carrying the apologies of Hijam Rajesh, Editor, the Sangai Express, Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor, the Imphal Free Press, and Khoirom Loyalakpa, Editor, The Naharolgi Thoudang.

The bench observed that they sent their apologies through an affidavit, but none of them was present in the court on 13 January. Therefore, it directed the Registry to issue summons for their personal appearance on 12 February at 3 pm.

Meanwhile, the bench suggested that they could tender an unconditional apology by publishing it in a box item on the front page of the newspaper, for the incorrect reporting of the court proceedings.

On 9 December 2015, the Supreme Court passed an order stating:

In these writ petitions, certain submissions have been attributed to learned Attorney General for India which were not made in the court and certain observations have also been attributed to this Court, which too were not made.

The court issued notice to the papers “to explain the circumstances in which the statements attributed to learned Attorney General for India and to this Court were made”.

(Read Order)

According to a copy of an article originally carried on LiveLaw, the erroneous reports had stated that the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to prosecute the armed forces and CRPF conducting fake encounters in the North East, enabled by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), reporting that Justice Madan B Lokur said: “Better launch prosecution against the personnel involved. Now it’s like you kill 10 people, pay compensation and the matter ends there. We also wonder why people are found to have been shot in their back.”

The erroneous reports also quoted attorney general Mukul Rohatgi as saying on behalf of the Centre: “We are not running away from any probe. We will set up a court of inquiry. But remember we are involved in counter insurgency operations. Some accidental deaths may happen. We cannot prosecute an entire column of army. We have to strike a balance where armed forces do not lose their morale.”

LiveLaw had published a report relating to the case relying on the coverage of other publications, was issued notice by the Supreme Court, at which point the LiveLaw reporter present in court apologised immediately and published an apology on its website stating:

LiveLaw sincerely and unconditionally apologizes for posting a wrong reporting, under the title “SC orders Prosecution of Security Personnel involved in Fake Encounters in North East; Draconian AFSPA under scanner”, of Court proceedings going on before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of ‘Extra Judicial Executions, Victims Families Association’ (Manipur). Live Law apologizes in posting this material merely by following other reports on the issue in various publications and on websites. Neither any observation was made nor was any Order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this regard. Hence the post is factually incorrect. Live law normally does not involve in live reporting of court proceedings and it is only intended to be a platform for lawyers and law students to discuss and remain informed about development of law, strictly based on constitutional values. Live law recognizes this error on its part and admits that this should not have happened. The entire team at live law tenders apology to the Hon’ble Court. There was no malice behind this. We assure to be more cautious and responsible henceforth. We have also as consequence of having realized the mistake committed, deleted the article from the website of LiveLaw.

The bench accepted the apology and LiveLaw was not issued notice in the written order.

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