The Karnataka High Court has admitted a writ petition filed by dislodged Deccan Herald and Praja Vani editor K.N. Shanth Kumar. But, surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) neither the news of the admittance nor the contents of the petition have been published by Bangalore’s newspapers, although the case comes up for hearing on Thursday, March 1.
Below are edited excerpts of Shanth Kumar’s writ petition, which provide a rare insight into the functioning of our newspapers—and how key decisions that impacts every reader are taken.
WRIT PETITION: 2888 of 2007
Before Justice Abdul Nazeer of the Karnataka High Court
Between K.N. Shanth Kumar, s/o K.N. Netkalappa, aged about 46 years (Petitioner)
1. The District Magistrate, Bangalore Urban District
2. Registrar of Newspapers in India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Delhi
3. The Printers (Mysore) Private Limited
4. K. Ramchand, printer and publisher
5. K.N. Tilak Kumar, s/o K.N. Netkalappa, aged about 53 years (Respondents)
he petitioner begs to prefer this writ petition seeking a writ in the nature of declaration and certiorari, being aggrieved by the action of the first respondent in having authenticated a declaration in respect of the newspaper (Deccan Herald & Praja Vani) under provisions of the PNRB Act of 1867 filed by the fourth respondent at the instance of the fifth respondent, making it mandatory of the newspaper to publish the name of the fifth respondent as its editor without even ascertaining the validity of the declaration filed, and without constituting an enquiry and without adjudicating upon the objections filed by the petitioner herein.
The action of the respondents is illegal and is liable to be interfered with by this honourable court in exercise of its original jurisdiction on the following among other grounds:
The petitioner is the editor of the daily (Deccan Herald in English and Praja Vani in Kannada) and of two Kannada periodicals, Sudha and Mayura. The said publications are published by the third respondent which was established in 1948 by the late K.N. Guruswamy.
The publications, more particularly DH-PV, have had an illustrious past, and today continue to be the most leading and widely read newspapers in the State of Karnataka. They are printed and published from Bangalore, Hubli-Dharwad, Mangalore, Mysore, Davanagere and Gulbarga.
The petitioner and the fifth respondent are brothers. The petitioner, the fifth respondent, and their brother Shri K.N. Hari Kumar each hold 20 per cent share in the third respondent while they hold further shares indirectly.
The petitioner, fifth respondent and the said Hari Kumar in all control 75 per cent of the shares of the third respondent, while the balance 25 per cent are held by close family and friends.
The petitioner, fifth respondent and Smt Parul Shah are the wholetime directors on the Board of the third respondent.
The Board of Directors of third respondent comprise six directors: the petitioner, the fifth respondent, Parul Shah, Kuldip Nayar, Goverdhan Kumar and Narayansa. The regulation of printing press, the one run by the third respondent, and newspapers published by the third respondent, are governed by the provisions of the PRB Act of 1867.
The petitioner, holding the position as the editor of the company, had in the past been challenged by Smt Parul Shah and a resolution for his removal was placed before the Board of Directors of the third respondent way back in 2002.
The Board of Directors considered the resolution moved by Smt Parul Shah and affirmed the petitioner be continued as editor of the company.
It will be significant to point out that the fifth respondent has also mooted the topic of rearranging or distributing the offices held by various members of the family and in particular, the editor of the newspaper.
The issue having been considered by the post in the past has been adjourned with no decision taken by the Board of Directors.
On 13 February 2007, the fifth respondent, unilaterally and without the authority of the Board, instructed the fourth respondent to file a declaration with the first respondent asserting that the fifth respondent has been appointed the editor of the paper. Accordingly, the fourth respondent has filed a declaration with the first respondent herein.
It is submitted that under the provisions of the PRB Act, the editors holds a position of responsibility. No newspaper can be published in India without a declaration as to the name of the editor and his nationality.
The petitioner, having learnt about the declaration filed by the third respondent with the first respondent, on the same day filed his objection pointing out that the declaration is made without the authority of the Board of Directors of the company.
Notwithstanding that representation, the very fact that the name of the petitioner was sought to be changed and the fifth respondent was sought to be shown as editor warranted an enquiry by the first respondent.
It was pointed out that the fifth respondent has no authority to remove the petitioner.
The petitioner, having been appointed as the editor by the Board of Directors, it is the Board of Directors alone who would be entitled to remove the editor and appoint a new editor.
Accordingly, it was brought to the notice of the first respondent that the declaration be rejected. It is submitted that the illegallity having been brought to the notice of the first respondent, the first respondent ought to have instituted an inquiry into the validity of the proposed declaration.
On 14 February 2007, the fifth respondent unilaterally and without the authority of the Board of Directors further issued a direction to the Associate Editors of the respective papers, directing them to change the name of the editor from the imprintline, from that of the petitioner to that of the fifth respondent.
The petitioner herein calls issuance of a note to the said associate editors intimating them that such a change was neither authorized by the Board of Directors nor were they in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
However, the third respondent and its officers have found themselves bound by the declaration as authenticated by the fifth respondent.
A newspaper report of the said action of the respondents has been been published in Business Standard of 16 February 2007.
The other members of the Board of Directors, clearly shocked by the action of the fifth respondent, addressed letters registering their concern and called upon the fifth respondent in his position as Chairman of the Board of Directosr to convene a meeting of the Board to consider and take appropriate action in respect of the said action of the fifth respondent.
Declare this action of the fifth respondent in authenticating the declaration dating 13 February 2007 without holding an inquiry as illegal and oppose the provisions of the Act, and quash the said declaration filed before him.
Pending disposal of this writ petition, the petitioner most respectfully prays that this honourable court may be pleased to stay the operation of the authentcation by the first respondent, and to prevent the respondents from taking any action thereto in the interest of equity and justice.
Also see: Inside story of Deccan Herald coup