HC notice on Swamy’s plea that editors must be Indian citizens

New Delhi, May 8 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued notice to the centre on a plea by Janta Party leader Subramanian Swamy that editors of news organisations in India should be citizens of the country.

A division bench of Chief Justice D. Murugesan and Justice Jayant Nath sought a response from the Registrar of Newspapers for India and the information and broadcasting ministry.

It also asked Additional Solicitor General Rajeeve Mehra to explain how it interprets the definition of an editor under the Press and Registration of Books Act and the Indian constitution.

The court posted the matter for further hearing July 24.

The court’s directions came on a plea saying editors of news organisations “must be Indian citizens and resident of India”, and not foreign citizens.

Swamy said that as per the Press and Registration of Books Act, only Indian citizen can hold the post of an editor in any news organisation.

“No person who is not ordinarily resident in India, or who is an minor, shall be permitted to be the editor, answerable to the government for any infractions of law committed by such newspaper,” the plea said, referring to the act.

Seeking a court to pass an order to rectify the existing law, Swamy said: “Rectify the lacunas prevalent in the Press and Registration of Books Act regarding the definition of an editor in section 1 as read with the provision to Section 5(8) of the Act.”

“Clarify the definition of editor to bring it in consonance with the current times and keeping in mind the fundamental rights of the citizen of India,” the petition further said.

Swamy contended that the media is held to be the fourth estate of democracy for its crucial role and as in the three other estates, the editor be an ordinarily a resident citizen of India.

The editor is responsible under law for what news items are and are not published in the newspaper, and has therefore to be committed to the restrictions under Article 19(2), that is freedom of expression, Swamy said in the plea.

“The editor if not a citizen of India cannot be expected to be committed to our nation and sensitive to Article 19(2).”

Swamy further pleaded that newspaper editorials have a profound effect in national debates and in the forming voter opinion in parliamentary and other elections.

“Only Indian citizens are entitled to this protection of Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. Hence, foreign citizen editors cannot act as fearlessly in safeguarding the citizens’ right to information, or be expected to be committed to the sovereignty, integrity and security of the Indian State as required under Article 19(2),” Swamy’s petition said.

“Readers/subscribers’ fundamental right to information and free expression, which is subject to reasonable restrictions, is prejudiced when the editor, who under the law is the decisive authority for selecting what will be printed, is a foreign citizen.”

The plea further added that a 2002 cabinet decision to permit 26 percent FDI in news and current affairs print media imposes a pre-condition that all key editorial posts must lie with Indian citizens who are also ordinarily resident in India.

The editors in the visual and TV media are already required to be citizens of India, the plea noted.

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