A Bench of Justices C K Prasad and V G Gowda said the editor controls the selection of the matter that is published and he cannot be exempted from proceedings on the ground that the alleged offensive news was published without taking his permission.
"From the scheme of the Press and Registration of Books Act, it is evident that it is the Editor who controls the selection of the matter that is published in a newspaper. Further, every copy of the newspaper is required to contain the names of the owner and the editor and once the name of the editor is shown, he shall be held responsible in any civil and criminal proceeding," the Bench said.
The court dismissed the plea of Editor of Gujarati daily newspaper Sandesh who sought quashing of proceedings against him on the ground that he was not responsible for a publication of a defamatory news story in 1999 and decision to publish the story was taken by a resident editor.
"A news item has the potentiality of bringing doom's day for an individual. The editor controls the selection of the matter that is published. Therefore, he has to keep a careful eye on the selection. Blue-penciling of news articles by any one other than the editor is not welcome in a democratic polity. Editors have to take responsibility of everything they publish and to maintain the integrity of published records," the Bench said.
"It is apt to remind ourselves the answer of the Editor of the Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper. When asked what it was like to run a national newspaper, the editor answered, ‘run a newspaper! I run a country'. It may be an exaggeration but it does reflect the well known fact that it can cause far-reaching consequences in an individual and country's life," the Bench said.
The court passed the order on a appeal filed by the then executive magistrate in Vadodara who approached the apex court against the Gujarat High Court's verdict for quashing proceedings against the editor.
The magistrate had filed a complaint against the editor and resident editor of the daily for publishing an alleged false news story about his "illicit relations with the wife of a doctor" in 1999.
The editor then approached the high court which had quashed the proceedings against him. But the apex court set aside the high court's order.
"At this stage, it is impermissible to go into the truthfulness or otherwise of the allegation and one has to proceed on a footing that the allegation made is true.
"Hence, the conclusion reached by the high court that there is nothing in the complaint to suggest that the petitioner (editor) was aware of the offending news item being published or that he had any role to play in the selection of such item for publication is palpably wrong," the Bench said.