New Delhi : Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) has deplored the decision of the Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court for holding the editor and the publisher of the ‘Shillong Times’ guilty of the contempt of court. The type of punishment that was meted out to the erudite and highly sensitive editor Ms Patricia Mukhim and the publisher Shobha Chaudhary was shocking, most demeaning, to say the least.
On 8th of March, Chief Justice Mohammad Yakoob ordered them ‘to sit in the corner of the courtroom till the rising of the court and a fine of rupees two lakh each to be paid in a week’s time. If they fail to deposit the fined amount then both of the contemnors will have to undergo six months simple imprisonments and the paper i.e. the Shillong Times will automatically come to close (banned)’. The sordid part of it was that the contempt proceedings were initiated on the basis of the reports which were published on December 6 and 10 2018 under the headings ‘High Court presses retirement benefits to judges, family’ and ‘when judges judge for themselves’, respectively. The reports were true and the criticism thereto was absolutely fair, which is what is expected from the media.
Expressing dismay over the contempt proceedings against the editor and the publisher of the Shillong Times, the IFWJ Secretary General Parmanand Pandey has said that it amounted to blatant throttling of the freedom of the speech and expression. Shockingly, this harsh and insulting punishment was given to them when they had already tendered the unconditional apology. IFWJ has said judges must be ready to face the criticism in the interest of the judiciary as well for the freedom of the media. In this context, Mr Pandey has said, that we must learn good things from the British tradition of using the contempt of court powers in the ‘rarest of rare’ occasions when the majesty of the law is deliberately lowered down.
He said that when a British newspaper published a news item attributing to a judge as ‘bald-headed, old, fool’, the judge took it sportingly and refused to take any cognizance of it. When he was asked by the reporters whether it constituted the contempt of court or not, the Judge replied in negative and said that ‘the newspaper has not committed any contempt of the court because, ‘old I am, bald-headed I am, and as far as calling me a fool, it is the perception of the newspaper, so where is the contempt of court?
The High Court of Meghalaya has been, from its inception, in the news many times for wrong reasons. The contempt proceedings that was initiated against the editor and publisher of the Shillong times was for reporting and making a comment on the benefits granted to himself and his family by Justice Sen, who retired a day after passing the directions. In his order, he had said that the retired High Court judges should be provided medical facilities along with their spouses and the children besides being given the protocol, guest house, domestic help, mobile/internet charge at the rate of Rs. 10000/- and mobile set of up to Rs. 80000/-. Similarly, a former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court, who owed his elevation to the High Court because of his unique qualification of being a superstitious astrologer, had also passed a weird order for availing himself the Z Security cover after his retirement.
The IFWJ has requested to Supreme Court of India to take notice of such errant, egoistic, eccentric and idiosyncratic behaviour of the High Court judges, who have been bringing disrepute to the judiciary by their most condemnable conducts. This is a downright misuse of the power of the judges, who appear to be oblivious of the problems of the overwhelming majority of the country, said the IFWJ in its release to the media.
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