The Supreme Court has given a stay order on the Meghalaya High Court’s contempt order against the editor of Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim and the publisher Shobha Chaudhuri.
A report published in the The Indian Express stated that based on an appeal filed by the editor and the publisher of the newspaper, the SC bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also issued a notice to the High Court registrar. Earlier, the Meghalaya High Court had held the editor and publisher of the very popular newspaper of the Northeast (first published in 1945) guilty of contempt of court and imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each and also ruled that in case of non-payment of the penalty in a week, the two will be imprisoned for six months and the paper “banned”.
The Editor’s Guild also came down heavily on the High Court order calling it “intimidatory and undermines press freedom”. The Editor’s Guild further said that it is “ironical that the judiciary which should uphold press freedom has instead issued an order that militates against freedom of expression” and urged the judiciary “to exercise its constitutional powers with utmost caution so that the role of a free media in a democracy is duly respected”
The contempt order was given against the editor and publisher following two reports published in the Shillong Times on December 6 and 10, 2018, regarding a court order seeking better facilities for retired judges and their families. What provoked the Meghalaya High Court was an article published in the Shillong Times under the caption ‘When Judges judge for themselves’, which had criticised the series of orders passed by Justice SR Sen in suo moto proceedings for enhancing the retiral benefits of judges.
In a petition to SC, Patricia Mukhim and Shobha Chaudhuri stated that the report was a “fair and accurate reporting” of court proceedings. They also contended that the HC order suffered from “manifest perversity” and that the sentence passed was “manifestly arbitrary”, as the fine of Rs 2 lakhs exceeded the maximum sentence of fine of Rs 2,000 imposable under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act.