Sabyasachi Kundu

New Delhi: Expressing its dismay at the nature of journalism being practised in the country, the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed news portal 'The Wire' and its team to withdraw their appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court order in a defamation case filed by Jay Shah, following an article published on its website.

Jay Shah, son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had sought action against the website for carrying defamatory content in an article. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra also ordered that the trial against the website be expeditiously completed by the competent court.

The hearing in the court witnessed heated arguments. "This can happen to anybody (referring to the publication of the article). We are suffering and this institution (citing the courts) is also suffering. In fact, this institution has suffered. What is this kind of culture developed in India (an observation in the context of journalism)?" asked Justice Mishra.

The bench, which also comprises Justices M.R. Shah and B.R. Gavai, made this observation when senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the portal and its scribes, submitted that his clients sought to withdraw the appeals filed by them. Justice Mishra queried Sibal, "Why should we not take suo moto and settle it. We want a decision on the merit of the case?"

The court also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was present in the court, as to the practice of sending a notice at night and seeking a reply. The court was referring to incidents where a notice is served on a person to document its explanation on the matter, and even before the query is answered, an article is published, which technically denies the opposite party a chance to register its reply on the matter.

"The article is usually published within five to six hours...what is this?" observed the court.

Justice Mishra continued to express his dissatisfaction with the press. "What kind of journalism is this", he asked and told Sibal to ponder over the issue. Though the court allowed withdrawal of appeals, it pointed out that these have been pending for nearly 18 months.

"We have permitted the withdrawal, but the way in which notices are given over a short period of time is indeed a matter of concern for the court", observed Mishra.

Sibal then mentioned that the freedom of press should be restored. Justice Mishra replied that such freedom is supreme, but it cannot be a one-way traffic. Sibal retorted by saying: have the judges on the bench seen TV news? Justice Mishra replied in the negative. Sibal quipped: then you must watch it.

Justice Mishra replied, "Yellow journalism should not take place." Counsels appearing for Jay submitted before the court that the appeals should be withdrawn absolutely unconditionally.

A statement by 'The Wire' said: "Circumstances have arisen as per which we believe it is best if we make use of the opportunity to justify everything we have stated in our article at the trial. We are therefore withdrawing. We believe the fight for media freedom will have to be advanced at all levels."