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Framing of General Guidelines By Judiciary On Reporting Strangulating The Media?

Updated: April 28, 2012 11:28 am

In last couple of years, the media has been facing sharp flak from various quarters for resorting to sensationalism and what not. Just recently, a Constitution Bench was set up by the Supreme Court to frame the guidelines pertaining to reporting of cases in courts headed by Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia. It resorted to widening its ambit on media norms to other spheres of journalism, namely a ban on “media leakage’’ in a pending crime investigation, restricting sex and violence on TV and drafting norms for news coverage by electronic media. It is pertinent to mention here that a three-page order uploaded on the Supreme Court’s official website on April 4 depicts that four pending cases in the apex court pertaining to complaints of perceived media excesses have been transferred to the Constitution Bench. It mentions that the Bench has given the liberty to the respective parties in these four matters “to make submissions on issues relating to media coverage’’ on April 10 which was the next day of hearing. It must be mentioned here that the four cases listed pertains to media reports in the Arushi double murder case and the contempt proceedings against former India Today magazine editor Prabhu Chawla and correspondent Mihir Srivastava in the Batla House encounter, as also petitions seeking norms regarding presentation of sexual abuse and violence on TV and guidelines for TV news coverage.

In The Times of India newspaper on Page 1, Dhananjay Mahapatra traces the origin of the unseemly controversy on media reporting and leakage in these words : “The purview of the Supreme Court’s deliberations to frame guidelines for how the media should report sub judice matters, which arose from indignation over a news report on ‘leaked’ privileged communication between the counsel of Sahara Real Estate Corporation and SEBI, has now been expanded to include related cases which had been pending in the apex court since 1999.’’ He further writes : “While hearing Sahara’s application, a five-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia had directed that ‘any party, who desires to make submissions in the matter, may do so by way of intervention’. This prompted several public-spirited lawyers and organisations to intervene in the deliberations.’’

I must specifically mention here that many reputed senior lawyers have persistently argued that journalism just cannot be left to the whims of the judiciary and also exuded an unflinching faith in journalists as being quite capable of imposing themselves to impose self-regulation. To begin with, who better than the eminent legal jurist Fali S Nariman who had unequivocally suggested to the Bench that the best way would be to “pull up’’ the reporter for misrepresentation on a case by case basis rather than frame general guidelines, which may in effect curb the freedom of the press. While stoutly objecting to the Supreme Court’s intention to frame the guidelines which have the “force of law’’, Fali S Nariman spoke about how a high court judge says in court that 97 per cent of the people in the country are fools and the media reports it. He further lamented that, “All sorts of judges say all sorts of things, all sorts of lawyers say all sorts of things cannot build a wall around ourselves. There should be self restraint on lawyers and judges as well not to say just about anything in court.’’ We must pay attention here to the striking irony that Fali S Nariman minced no words in strongly defending press freedom notwithstanding the fact that he was appearing for the Sahara Group which is the affected party in case of media leak of a confidential document in an ongoing litigation in the Supreme Court. I personally hold Nariman in the highest esteem and fully subscribe to his views but simultaneously I also would suggest that if any person suffers in any way because of deliberate wrong reporting, the affected person should not only be compensated financially but strict action must also be taken against those indulging in either deliberate wrong reporting or sensationalising news to increase their viewership. This can never be justified under any circumstances nor can such media reporting which destroys any innocent person’s personal or proferssional life in any manner be allowed to go unpunished under any circumstances.

By Sanjeev Sirohi

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