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The heckler’s veto – OPINION – The Hindu

    • The apex court must issue guidelines to the lower courts to refrain from being an echo chamber for the heckler’s veto


  • Upholding freedom of expression


      • There are a number of Supreme Court judgments that have interpreted Article 19 of our Constitution, including the section dealing with ‘reasonable restrictions’, in a manner that upholds the principles of freedom of expression.
      • Justice Krishna Iyer questioned in the Periyar Ramayana case the overzealousness of State governments: “The possible invocation of powers under Section 99A of the Code of Criminal Procedure by various state governments on several occasions induces us to enter a caveat. Basic unity amidst diversity notwithstanding, India is a land of cultural contrarieties, coexistence of many religions and anti-religions, rationalism and bigotry, primitive cults and materialist doctrines. The compulsions of history and geography and the assault of modern science on retreating forces of medieval ways — a mosaic like tapestry of lovely and un-lovely strands — have made large and liberal tolerance of mutual criticism. Even though expressed in intemperate diction, a necessity of life. Governments, we are confident, will not act in hubris, but will weigh these hard facts of our society while putting into operation the harsher directives for forfeiture.
      • Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, nearly a decade before his elevation as a Supreme Court judge, delivered in the M.F. Husain case a very sobering judgment:


  • A liberal tolerance of a different point of view causes no damage


        • I am right’ does not necessarily imply ‘You are wrong’. Our culture breeds tolerance — both in thought and in actions.”


  • The broad consensus is that when the enabling environment for free speech gets vitiated, it undermines the redeeming features of democracy.


  • The heckler’s veto, according to legal scholars, is a process by which socially powerful groups can shut down critical or inconvenient speech by threatening public disorder or disturbance.
  • One of the ways in which the lower courts encourage the heckler’s veto is by granting an ex parte injunction against publication or broadcast of news.
  • hough these are called interim injunctions, in reality they do become a prior restraint, which is not permissible under the Supreme Court judgment in the R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu (1994) case.
  • Early this year, the first bench led by the Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar, made it clear that pre-broadcast or pre-publication censorship is not the business of the court and that all grievances against objectionable content will be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land after its publication.