Sunday, June 13, 2010

Journalists cannot misuse liberty: HC

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court has observed that right to freedom of expression guaranteed to the citizen of India is subjected to reasonable restrictions and journalist cannot misuse it under the guise of freedom of speech.

Justice A S Dave of the high court observed so while refusing to quash a criminal complaint against a freelance journalist who allegedly impersonated himself as a government employee and demanded money from shopkeepers selling firecrackers during last Diwali in Jetpur town of Rajkot district.
The police lodged an FIR against one Haresh Bhaliya and booked him on charges of extortion, when a shopkeeper complained that he was demanding money. As per the complaint, Bhaliya came to the shop and started doing videoshooting and projected himself as an employee of the mamlatdar office. He inquired why firecrackers were kept illegally in the shop. When the shopkeeper called mamlatdar office, he was told that no official was deployed or permitted to do videography.
When the shopkeeper refused to pay money and tried stopping the video shoot, Bhaliya allegedly threatened the shop owner of dire consequences, even closing down of his business.
Bhaliya later approached the high court earlier this year with a plea to get the criminal proceedings against him cancelled.
He argued that being a freelance journalist, he was performing his duty to report illegal activities of shopkeepers and refused the charges of extortion and threat. He claimed that he had only tried to expose illegal activities carried out on part of shopkeepers and certain government officials, and the criminal case was nothing but his victimisation.
But the high court did not believe Bhaliya’s claims on the ground that police carried out investigation in this case and charge sheet was also filed, in which a prima facie case was made out against the reporter.
The court observed that impersonating himself as Mamlatdar office employee, threatening shop owners for taking serious action for selling firecrackers on foot path and to close down their business cannot be said to be part of a journalist’s duty.
Ultimately, the court did not quash the FIR and observed, “Charges of such a nature do not befit a noble profession like journalism. This court is not oblivious of the fact that right to freedom guaranteed to the citizen of India is subjected to reasonable restrictions in the guise of freedom of speech, the liberty given to journalist cannot be misused.”

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