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‘Fake News’ on Migrants: SC Refuses to Consider OpIndia Plea for quashing FIR in TN

Granting temporary protection to the editor and owner of the Right-wing portal, the top court asked them to move the Madras High Court.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India granted temporary protection to the editor and owner of the news portal OpIndia in a case related to the alleged publication of fake news. The court granted protection to the CEO and editor for a period of four weeks from any coercive action by the police in connection with the case.

The protection was granted by a bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah after the editor and owner approached the court seeking relief from arrest and coercive action.

The top court noted the submissions of senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for Nupur J Sharma and Rahul Roushan of the news portal, that the impugned news has already been taken back. Now, both of them are facing arrest. “We direct there shall be no coercive action against them for four weeks,” the bench said.

The bench, however, refused to consider the plea for quashing of the FIR lodged in Tamil Nadu and asked the editor and the owner of the portal, OpIndia, to move the Madras High Court for relief. “Jethmalani, how can we quash the FIR under Article 32 of the Constitution? You, please go to the Madras High Court,” the bench said.

The Tamil Nadu police, on March 6, booked Right-wing blog OpIndia for “spreading false news” about migrant workers in the state. The case was registered against the blog’s CEO, Rahul Roushan and editor Nupur Sharma at the Thiruninravur police station in Avadi.

The FIR was based on a complaint from DMK IT wing member Suryaprakash who accused the website of creating “fear” among migrant workers through false news. The petitioners stated that the portal published the report based on a news article published by another newspaper, and when it was found to be false, it was retracted. Last month, videos of Hindi-speaking migrant workers allegedly being attacked in Tamil Nadu were shared widely on social media. They were eventually debunked as fake by fact-checkers and the state police department, but not before causing widespread panic.

The bench also issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government and sought their response in the matter.

The court observed that it was necessary to protect the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression of the media, even if the article was defamatory or contained false information. The bench further stated that the freedom of the press should not be stifled by invoking criminal law in a routine manner.

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