LAW RESOURCE INDIA

The Leveson Inquiry – A Report into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press

Posted in DEMOCRACY, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on December 9, 2012

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Remarks by Lord Justice Leveson: Thursday 29 November 2012

For the seventh time in less than 70 years, there is a new report, commissioned by the Government, dealing with concerns about the press. It was sparked by public revulsion about a single act – the hacking of the mobile phone of a murdered teenager. From that beginning, it has expanded to cover the culture, practices and ethics of the press and its conduct in relation to the public, the police and politicians.

 This Inquiry has been the most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen. In nearly nine months of oral hearings, 337 witnesses gave evidence in person and the statements of nearly 300 others were read into the record. I am grateful to all who have contributed. The Report will now be published on the Inquiry website which also carries the statements, exhibits and both transcripts and video coverage of the evidence.

 For over 40 years, as a barrister and a judge, I have watched the press in action, day after day, in the courts in which I have practised. I know how vital the press is – all of it – as guardian of the interests of the public, as a critical witness to events, as the standard bearer for those who have no-one else to speak up for them. Nothing in the evidence I have heard or read has changed that view. The press, operating freely and in the public interest, is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. As a result, it holds a privileged and powerful place in our society.

But this power and influence carries with it responsibilities to the public interest in whose name it exercises these privileges. Unfortunately, as the evidence has shown beyond doubt, on too many occasions, those responsibilities (along with the Editors’ Code which the press wrote and promoted) have simply been ignored. This has damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and, also on occasion, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people.

 What the press do and say is no ordinary exercise of free speech. It operates very differently from blogs on the internet and other social media such as Twitter. Its impact is uniquely powerful. A free press in a democracy holds power to account. But, with a few honourable exceptions, the UK press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.

None of this, however, is to conclude that press freedom in Britain, hard won over 300 years ago, should be jeopardised. On the contrary, it should not. I remain firmly of the belief that the British press – I repeat, all of it, – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time. There are truly countless examples of great journalism, great investigations and great campaigns. Not that it is necessary or appropriate for the press always to be pursuing serious stories for it to be working in the public interest. Some of its most important functions are to inform, educate and entertain and, when doing so, to be irreverent, unruly and opinionated.

But none of that means that the press is beyond challenge. I know of no organised profession, industry or trade in which the serious failings of the few are overlooked or ignored because of the good done by the many. Were it so in any other case, the press would be the very first to expose such practices.

The purpose of this Inquiry has been two fold. First, it has been to do just that – to expose precisely what has been happening. Secondly, it is to make recommendations for change. As to change, almost everyone accepts that the Press Complaints Commission has failed in the task, if indeed it ever saw itself as having such a task, of keeping the press to its responsibilities to the public generally and to the individuals unfairly damaged.

There must be change. But let me say this very clearly. Not a single witness proposed that either Government or politicians all of whom the press hold to account, should be involved in the regulation of the press. Neither would I make any such proposal.

 Let me deal very briefly with the idea that this Inquiry might not have been necessary if the criminal law had simply operated more effectively. There were errors in aspects of the way the phone hacking investigation was managed in 2006 and in relation to the failure to undertake later reviews, and there are some problems that need to be fixed with the criminal and civil laws and also in relation to data protection. In particular, exemplary damages should be available for all media torts. In the end, however, law enforcement can never be the whole answer. As we have seen, that is because the law-breaking in this area is typically hidden, with the victims generally unaware of what has happened. Even if it were possible – and it is certainly not desirable – putting a policeman in every newsroom is no sort of answer.

In any event, the powers of law enforcement are significantly limited because of the privileges that the law provides to the press, including for the protection of its sources. That is specifically in order that it can perform its role in the public interest. What is needed therefore is a genuinely independent and effective system of selfregulation of standards, with obligations to the public interest. At the very start of the Inquiry and throughout I have encouraged the industry to work together to find a mechanism for independent self-regulation that would work for them and would work for the public.

Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Black of Brentwood stepped forward to lead the effort. They put forward the idea of a model based on contractual obligations among press organisations. On Monday afternoon of this week, with the Report being printed, I received two separate submissions from within the press telling me that most of the industry was now prepared to sign self-regulation contracts.

The first submission recognises the possibility of improvements to the model proposed so far. The second expresses confidence that the model proposed by Lord Black and Lord Hunt addresses the criticisms made at the Inquiry. Unfortunately, however, although this model is an improvement on the PCC, in my view, it does not come close to delivering, in the words of the submission itself, “regulation that is itself, genuinely, free and independent both of the industry it regulates and of political control”. Any model with editors on the main Board is simply not independent of the industry to anything approaching the degree required to warrant public confidence. It is still the industry marking its own homework. Nor is the model proposed stable or robust for the longer-term future.

The press needs to establish a new regulatory body which is truly independent of industry leaders and of Government and politicians. It must promote high standards of journalism, and protect both the public interest and the rights and liberties of individuals. It should set and enforce standards, hear individual complaints against its members and provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with civil law claims.

The Chair and the other members of the body must be independent and appointed by a fair and open process. It must comprise a majority of members who are independent of the press. It should not include any serving editor or politician. That can be readily achieved by an appointments panel which could itself include a current editor but with a substantial majority demonstrably independent of the press and of politicians. In the Report, I explain who might be involved.

Although I make some recommendations in this area, it is absolutely not my role to seek to establish a new press standards code or to decide how an independent selfregulatory, body would go about its business. As to a standards code, I recommend the involvement of an industry committee (which could involve serving editors).

That committee would advise the regulatory body and there should be a process of public consultation. In my report, I also address the need for incentives to be put in place to encourage all in the industry to sign up to this new regulatory system. Guaranteed independence, long-term stability, and genuine benefits for the industry, cannot be realised without legislation. So much misleading speculation and misinformation has been spread about the prospect of new legislation that I need to make a few things very clear. I am proposing it only for the narrow purpose of recognising a new independent self-regulatory system. It is important to be clear what this legislation would not do; it would not establish a body to regulate the press; that is for the press itself to do.

So what would this legislation achieve? Three things. It would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press. Secondly, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and thereby reassure the public of its independence and efficacy. Thirdly, it would provide new and tangible benefits for the press. As members of the body, newspapers could show that they act in good faith and have sought to comply with  standards based on the public interest. Decisions of the new recognised regulator could create precedents which could, in turn, help a court in civil actions. In addition, the existence of a formally recognised, free arbitration system is likely to provide powerful arguments as to costs should a claimant decide not to use that free system or, conversely, if a newspaper is not a member. In my view, the benefits of membership should be obvious to all.

This is not, and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. I am proposing independent regulation of the press organised by the press itself with a statutory process to support press freedom, provide stability and guarantee for the public that this new body is independent and effective. I firmly believe that these recommendations for self-regulation are in the best interests of the public and the press; they have not been influenced by any political or other agenda but solely by what I believe is fair and right for everyone. What is more, given the public interest role of which the press is rightly proud, I do not think that either the victims I have heard from, or the public in general, would accept anything less.

Turning to the police, the relationship between police and public is vital to the essential requirements of policing by consent and the press have a very important part to play in its promotion. Although there has been a limit on how far it has been possible for the Inquiry to go because of the need not to prejudice any ongoing investigations, whatever Operation Elveden (concerning corrupt payments to officials) might reveal, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that corruption by the press is a widespread problem in relation to the police. However, while broadly endorsing the approach of recent reviews into police governance, I have identified a number of issues that I recommend should be addressed.

As for the press and politicians, the overwhelming evidence is that relations on a day-to-day basis are in robust good health and performing the vital public interest functions of a free press in a vigorous democracy; everyday interactions between journalists and politicians cause no concern. But senior politicians across the spectrum have accepted that in a number of respects the relationship between politics and the press has been ‘too close’. I agree.

What I am concerned about is a particular kind of lobbying, conducted out of the public eye, through the relationships of policy makers and those in the media who stand to gain or lose from the policy being considered. That gives rise to the understandable perception that the power of the press to affect political fortunes may be used to influence that policy. This, in turn, undermines public trust and confidence in decisions on media matters being taken genuinely in the public interest. This is a long-standing issue, and one which, over the years and across the political spectrum, has repeatedly resulted in opportunities being missed to respond appropriately to legitimate public concern about press behaviour.

The press is, of course, entitled to lobby in its own interests, whether editorially or through the senior political access it enjoys. It is, however, the responsibility of the politicians to ensure that the decisions that are taken are seen to be based on the public interest as a whole. This means the extent to which they are lobbied by the press should be open and transparent; and that the public should therefore have a basic understanding of the process. In this limited area, I have recommended that consideration should be given to a number of steps to create greater transparency about these influential relationships at the top of politics and the media and so address the issue of public perception and hence trust and confidence. A good start would be for those steps towards greater transparency to be taken in relation to press lobbying about this Report.

Similar considerations apply to the role of Ministers when taking decisions about the public interest in relation to media ownership. I believe that democratically accountable Ministers are the right people to make these decisions. However, I have made recommendations as to how the process can be made much more transparent to ensure that in future there should be no risk even of the perception of bias. It is essential that the UK retains a plural media with a genuine diversity of ownership, approach and perspective. In my opinion, the competition authorities should have the means to keep levels of plurality under review and be equipped with a full range of remedies to deal with concerns.

I must now place on record my thanks to all those who participated in the Inquiry.These are the assessors who have advised in areas of their expertise and who were selected by the Government with the support of the Leader of the Opposition, in the Prime Minister’s words “for their complete independence from all interested parties”; Robert Jay and counsel, for collating and presenting such a massive volume of evidence so efficiently; everyone in the Inquiry team who has worked so hard to achieve so much in such limited time; the core participants and their lawyers; and, most of all, the public who have provided evidence, views and submissions.

As I said at the beginning, this is the seventh time in less than 70 years that these issues have been addressed. No-one can think it makes any sense to contemplate an eighth. I hope that my recommendations will be treated in exactly the same cross party spirit which led to the setting up of the Inquiry in the first place and will lead to a cross party response. I believe that the Report can and must speak for itself; to that end, I will be making no further comment. Nobody will be speaking for me about its contents either now or in the future. The ball moves back into the politicians’ court: they must now decide who guards the guardians.

The Report has been published at http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc1213/hc07/0780/0780.asp

The Executive Summary has been published at http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc1213/hc07/0779/0779.asp

A copy of Lord Justice Leveson’s statement has been published at Remarks by Lord Justice Leveson – 29 November 2012 (pdf, 36KB)

Wake up and smell the ink

Posted in MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on December 4, 2012

Justice Markandey Katju  – ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

The Leveson report on the British press should jolt the Indian media into acting against ills such as paid news, and focus on being an agent of progressive social change

After an inquiry lasting a year, Lord Justice Leveson has delivered a damning verdict on the decades of “outrageous” behaviour by the media. If anything, this verdict would apply in even greater force to a large section (not all) of the Indian media which has since long been shamelessly indulging in malpractices — paid news, the Radia tapes, and even blackmail and extortion. The Zee exposure is only the tip of an iceberg. Lord Justice Leveson in his report has said that malpractices in the media are not aberrations but common practices. This comment applies equally to a large section of the Indian media, though it must also be said that there are many upright and excellent journalists in India.

Lord Justice Leveson has said that: a section of the media acted as if its own ethical code simply did not exist; it “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”; there has been “reckless disregard for accuracy.”

Paid news

Everyone knows that paid news is rampant in India, but when the two-member committee (of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy) set up by the Press Council submitted a damning 72-page report, it was shamelessly sought to be suppressed at the instance of some members of the Press Council (before I became its Chairman). The first thing I did on becoming Chairman was to place the report on the Press Council’s website.

Madhu Kishwar, a senior journalist, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many media people can be bribed and manipulated. The huge salaries which many top media people get (some are said to get packages worth several crores annually, often linked with TRP ratings) enable such media people to lead fancy lifestyles with huge cars, houses and bank balances, thereby making many of them (not all) docile hirelings of their corporate masters.

Need for regulator

Lord Justice Leveson has called for the setting up of an independent statutory regulator of the media, which is precisely what I have been pleading for since long. However I have clarified that:

1. I want regulation, not control, of the media, the difference between the two being that whereas in control there is no freedom, in regulation there is freedom but subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest.

2. This regulation should not be by the government or any individual but by an independent statutory authority (which can be called the Media Council) and

3. Most of the members of the proposed Media Council (which should have representatives from the broadcast media also on it) should be mediapersons, not appointed by the government but elected by media organisations.

This media council should have punitive powers including the power to suspend licences and impose fines, but such punishment should be given by the majority decision of the Media Council, and not by the chairman alone. This is really a form of self-regulation and judgment by one’s peers (as is done by the Bar Council).

Some mediapersons have quoted Jefferson who said that if he had to choose between a government without a free press or a free press without a government, he would choose the latter. While I have great respect for Jefferson, I regret I cannot accept this statement, for two reasons. First, if there is no government there would be anarchy, and a free press cannot exist in an anarchy.

Second, in a democracy, the media must help people in their struggle for a better life. Therefore, freedom of the media by itself has no value. It has value if it helps people secure better lives. If the media uses its freedom to perpetuate poverty and other social evils like casteism, communalism and superstitions by propagating backward ideas, should we permit such freedom? Certainly not. Therefore, freedom of the media is a good thing only if it helps to raise the standard of living of the masses, and this it can do by spreading rational and scientific ideas and combating backward and feudal ideas like casteism and communalism.

Voice of the future

Historically, the media arose in western Europe as an organ of the people against feudal oppression in the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time, all the organs of power were in the hands of feudal authorities (kings, aristocrats, etc). Hence the people had to create new organs which could represent their interests. The media (which was then only the print media) was a powerful organ created by the people. In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, in contrast to the feudal organs which wanted to preserve the status quo. Everyone knows of the great role played by Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, John Wilkes and Junius who fought against feudal oppression, and helped greatly in the transformation of feudal Europe to modern Europe.

In my opinion, the Indian media should also play such a role. Today the Indian people are suffering terribly from massive poverty, unemployment, skyrocketing prices, an absence of health care and good education for the masses. The Indian media should help our country abolish these great evils, the way the European media did. Only then will it win the respect of the people.

Some people have misunderstood me and thought that I wish to gag or muzzle the media at the behest of the government. The truth is that I have always been fighting for media freedom, as my track record shows. However, I have also been saying that the media must act responsibly, particularly in a poor country like India.

No freedom can be absolute. Man is a social being, as Aristotle said. Hence freedom cannot go to the extent of damaging society, because in turn, we will be damaging ourselves.

(Justice Markandey Katju is Chairman, Press Council of India.)

ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

Media cannot reject regulation

Posted in MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on May 2, 2012

Media cannot reject regulation

Media cannot reject regulation

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE HINDU

If red lines can be drawn for the legal and medical professions, why should it be any different for profit-making newspapers and TV channels?

I have not read the Private Member’s Bill on media regulation that Meenakshi Natarajan was scheduled to move in Parliament last week so I am not in a position to comment upon it, but I am certainly of the opinion that the media (both print and electronic) needs to be regulated. Since my ideas on this issue have generated some controversy they need to be clarified.

I want regulation of the media, not control. The difference between the two is that in control there is no freedom, in regulation there is freedom but subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. The media has become very powerful in India and can strongly impact people’s lives. Hence it must be regulated in the public interest.

The media people keep harping on Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression. But they deliberately overlook or underplay Article 19 (2) which says that the above right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, State security, public order, decency, morality or in relation to defamation or incitement to an offence.

Not absolute

Thus, while there should be freedom for the media and not control over it, this freedom must be exercised in a manner not to adversely affect the security of the state, public order, morality, etc. No right can be absolute, every right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. The reason for this is that human beings are social creatures. No one can live in isolation, everyone has to live in society. And so an individual should not exercise her freedom in a manner so as to harm others or society, otherwise she will find it difficult to survive.

Media people often talk of self-regulation. But media houses are owned by businessmen who want profit. There is nothing wrong in making profits, but this must be coupled with social responsibilities. Media owners cannot say that they should be allowed to make profits even if the rest of society suffers. Such an attitude is self-destructive, and it is the media owners who will suffer in the long run if they do not correct themselves now. The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels.

Paid ‘news’ is the order of the day in some newspapers and channels where you have to pay to be in the news. One senior political leader told me things are so bad that politicians in some places pay money to journalists who attend their press conferences, and sometimes even to those who do not, to ensure favourable coverage. One TV channel owner told me that the latest Baba (who is dominating the scene nowadays) pays a huge amount for showing his meetings on TV. Madhu Kishwar, a very senior journalist herself, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many journalists are bribable and manipulable.

The media claims self-regulation. But by what logic? How can the News Broadcasters Association or the Broadcast Editors Association regulate TV channels driven by profit motive and high TRP ratings? Almost every section of society is regulated. Lawyers are a free profession, but their profession is regulated inasmuch as their licence can be suspended or cancelled by the Bar Council for professional misconduct. Similarly the licences of doctors, chartered accountants, etc., can be suspended/cancelled by their regulatory bodies. Judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. But the media claims that no action should be taken against it for violating journalistic ethics. Why? In a democracy everyone has to be accountable, but the media claims it should be accountable only to itself …The NBA and BEA claim self-regulation. Let me ask them: how many licences of TV channels have you suspended or cancelled till now? So far as we know, only one channel was awarded a fine, at which it withdrew from the body, and then was asked to come back. How many other punishments have you imposed? Let us have some details, instead of keeping everything secret. Let the meetings of the NBA and BEA be televised so as to ensure transparency and accountability (which Justice Verma has been advocating vociferously for the judiciary).

Let me quote from an article by Abhishek Upadhyaya, Editor, Special Projects, Dainik Bhaskar:

“It appears that the BEA was founded to collectively use intimidatory tactics in favour of a select few players after NBA failed to do so. The NBA is so weak, so feeble in its exercise of power that it can’t confront intimidation by its own members. The India TV case is an example of this. The NBA, in the past, had given notice to India TV for deceptively recreating a US-based policy analyst’s interview. It slapped a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on the channel which then walked out of the Association.

“The group of broadcasters found themselves completely helpless, couldn’t take any action and finally surrendered meekly before the channel. The offending channel issued a statement saying that its return has come after “fundamental issues raised by the channel against the disregard to NBA’s rules and guidelines were appreciated by the association’s directors…” The head of India TV, Rajat Sharma, then proceeded to join the board of NBA, and the channel’s managing editor, Vinod Kapri, returned to the Authority in the eminent editors’ panel!

“This was the turning point in the so-called self-regulation mechanism of electronic media. It became clear that all concerned had made an unwritten, oral understanding not to raise a finger on their own brethren in future. BEA was the next step in this direction, formed on 22 August, 2009 with a few electronic media editors in the driving seat. Since its inception this body has been irrationally screaming in the interest of a select few. The editors of this body announced some tender sops from time to time to publicise its good image and thwart any regulatory attempt in advance”.

Self-regulation

If the broadcast media claims self-regulation, then on the same logic everyone should be allowed self-regulation. Why then have laws at all, why have a law against theft, rape or murder? Why not abolish the Indian Penal Code and ask everyone to practise self-regulation? The very fact that there are laws proves that self-regulation is not sufficient, there must also be some external regulation and fear of punishment.

I may clarify here that I am not in favour of regulation of the media by the government but by an independent statutory authority like the Press Council of India. The Chairman of this body is not selected by the government but by a three-member selection committee consisting of (1) The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (who is the Vice-President of India) (2) The Speaker of the Lok Sabha and (3) One representative of the Press Council.

The Press Council has 28 members, of which 20 are from the Press, five members of Parliament, and 3 from other bodies (The Bar Council of India, UGC and Sahitya Academy). The decisions of the Press Council are taken by a majority vote. Therefore, I am not a dictator who can ride roughshod on the views of others. Several of my proposals were rejected by the majority, and I respected their verdict. If the electronic media also comes under the Press Council (which can be renamed the Media Council), representatives of the electronic media will also be on this body, which will be totally democratic. Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal? Obviously because they want a free ride in India without any kind of regulation and freedom to do what they will. I would welcome a healthy debate on this issue.

(The author is chairman of the Press Council of India.)

An American lesson in Court reporting

Posted in MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 25, 2012

MEDIA REGULATION

MEDIA REGULATION

AG NOORANI  IN THE HINDU

Unlike their Indian counterparts, journalists in the U.S. comment freely even when a case is being heard.

For three days in the last week of March, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments on the Affordable Care Act. No Federal law in the U.S. in recent memory has aroused such bitter controversy. If it is struck down as unconstitutional, President Barack Obama’s prestige will suffer. He is due for re-election in November. Very many think the court will rule against him in June.

The core of the law is its “mandate” requiring most Americans to buy health insurance. It is central to mending the broken health care system which leaves 50 million people uninsured and accounts for 17.6 per cent of the national economy. The burden of health care of the uninsured is passed on to the state, i.e., the taxpayer.

Highly politicised

The court is highly politicised as its ruling on the “election” of George W. Bush in 2000 proved. Four conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito Jr., and Clarence Thomas, will not even buy a car that can turn left. A Reagan appointee, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, tips the balance when these four differ with the liberal four.

Court proceedings in the matter were fully reported. Americans would not have put up with the absurd edict of Justice J.S. Verma that individual judges were not to be identified. Remarks during the hearing, he had said, were to be attributed to “the bench” as if they spoke spontaneously in unison. Nor was that all. The American press felt free to comment on the trend and criticise the judges even while the case was being heard. Today, it continues to speculate on the outcome while the judgments are under preparation.

The New York Times took the lead. An editorial, reproduced in its foreign edition, the International Herald Tribune (29 March), remarked that the conservative judges’ questions suggest that “they have adopted the language and approach of the insurance mandate’s challenges”. The newspaper criticised Justice Scalia for asking Solicitor-General Donald Verilli Jr. whether a law can compel people to buy broccoli. “Failure to buy broccoli does not push that cost to others in the system”. Neglect of health insurance passes the burden to the taxpayers.

In an article entitled “Broccoli and bad faith” (31 March) the Nobel Laureate, Paul Krugman, really went after the judge. “Given the stakes, one might have expected all the court’s members to be very careful in speaking about both health care realities and legal precedents. In reality, however, the second day of hearings suggested that the justices most hostile to the law don’t understand, or choose not to understand, how insurance works. And the third day was, in a way, even worse, as anti-reform justices appeared to embrace any argument, no matter how flimsy, that they could use to kill reform.”

He concluded: “We don’t know how this will go. But it’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding — and to worry that the nation’s already badly damaged faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to stand above politics is about to take another severe hit.”

Professor Krugman’s column challenged both the judges’ competence and integrity.

He was not hauled up for charging the mortals with bias and, worse, bad faith. The Times‘ editorial “The Roberts Court” had a sub-heading “Will the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the health care case expunge judicial restraint from legal conservatism?” It answered: “Republican administrations, spurred by conservative interests groups since the 1980s, handpicked each of the conservative justices to reshape or strike down law that fails to reflect conservative political ideology.”

Justice Scalia shamelessly descended into the political arena of a Senate vote count. “You can’t repeal the rest of the Act because you’re not going to get 60 votes in the Senate to repeal the rest.” Justice Stephen Breyer said firmly: “I would stay out of politics. That’s for Congress, not us.” The NYT concluded, “A split court striking down the Act will be declaring itself virtually unfettered by the law. And if that happens along party lines, with five Republican-appointed justices supporting the challenge led by 26 Republican governors, the Court will mark itself as driven by politics.”

Trust Maureen Dowd to give the judges their just deserts. She wrote: “Justice John Roberts Jr.’s benign beige façade is deceiving; he’s a crimson partisan, simply more cloaked than the ideologically rigid and often venomous (sic.) Scalia. Justice Scalia voted to bypass democracy and crown W [i.e. George W. Bush] President, so he expressed ennui at the idea that, even if parts of the health care law are struck down, some provisions could be saved: ‘You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?’ he asked, adding: ‘Is this not totally unrealistic?’

“Inexplicably mute 20 years after he lied his way onto the court, Clarence Thomas didn’t ask a single question during oral arguments for one of the biggest cases in the court’s history.”

Calling Justice Alito “insufferable”, Ms Dowd remarked, “The majority’s political motives are as naked as a strip-search”. She has not been hauled up for contempt of Court, either. Nor was Paul Begala for his article in Newsweek of 9 April entitled “Supreme Arrogance: Five Justices put our lives on the line”.

He wrote: “My fellow Americans, your health care is now in the hands of the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court. These are the folks who disgraced themselves in Bush v. Gore and who auctioned off democracy in the Citizens United decision (on election finance). You thought it was bad when Congress and insurance companies were making health-care policy? Wait till you see what five Republican lawyers can do.

“The oral arguments in the Affordable Care Act give us very little reason to have faith in the wisdom of the court. Some of the justices came off as smug, arrogant and frighteningly detached from the realities of everyday life in America.”

No judge in the U.S. or the U.K. would dream of framing guidelines for the press to obey. If any did, the press would simply disobey. There is a formidable case law on bringing to book anyone whose comments prejudice the fairness of a criminal trial. The wheel need not be reinvented.

For the rest, the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974 in Miami Herald Publishing Co. vs Tornillo (418 U.S. 241) is very apt. It did not concern fairness of comment but a law imposing the basic duty to publish a reply to criticism. Speaking for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Warner Burger ruled, “A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated.”

‘Not a public utility’

Justice Byron White remarked, “A newspaper or magazine is not a public utility subject to ‘reasonable’ governmental regulation in matters affecting the exercise of journalistic judgment… Of course, the press is not always accurate, or even responsible, and may not present full and fair debate on important public issues. …government may not force a newspaper to print copy which, in its journalistic discretion, it chooses to leave on the newsroom floor”. Even conduct of “free and fair elections” does not justify curbs. None can “dictate to the press the contents of its news columns or the slant of its editorials” — whether by Congressional laws or judicial “guidelines”. If men elected by the people to make laws cannot legislate press responsibility, still less can unelected judges who have no right to legislate.

(A.G. Noorani is an advocate, Supreme Court of India, and a leading constitutional expert. His latest book, Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.)

Harish Salve explains SC powers on contempt

Posted in CENSORSHIP LAW, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 20, 2012

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: If a person is found guilty of committing contempt of Supreme Court, will the apex court’s constitutional power to punish him be circumscribed by the Contempt of Court Act (CCA) provisions?

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing in the application filed by Vodafone complaining about misreporting during the hearing of its case, said CCA only provided the guiding principles and would in no way limit the apex court’s power on quantum of punishment, which in appropriate cases could exceed what is provided in the statute. The response came to a query from a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana P Desai and J S Khehar whether Article 129 of the Constitution, which provides that “the Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself”, meant it was bridled by the CCA.

After hearing Salve’s view, the CJI said though the bench had not taken any final view, it was of the opinion that provisions of a statute could not limit the Constitution-vested powers of the apex court. In the midst of long deliberation on the necessity of framing media reporting guidelines to protect right of an accused to reputation and dignity as well as preserve sanctity of fair trial, the bench asked for Salve’s view on restricting press freedom derived from right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and whether it could only be done through parameters specified under Article 19(2).

The senior advocate said, “The Supreme Court need not deal with the restrictions specified under Article 19(2) because it is only engaged in an exercise to define the contours of press freedom in reporting pending investigation or trial of a case and balancing it with the right of the accused to dignity and reputation.”

Salve said these days it was common to find TV channels standing outside a house being raided by investigating agencies and telecasting minute by minute details of the search operation. “This surely besmirches someone’s reputation. What happens if the agency does not find any incriminating material or does not press any charge at the end of the investigations? Can he not move the constitutional courts seeking relief on the ground that such reporting was destroying his reputation,” he asked.

“The media should be beyond government regulations except acceptable censorship. But to argue that media is beyond all regulation is the limit,” he said. Salve also objected to media using unnecessary hyperboles to describe intense questioning by a bench in serious issues.

He said, “Judges ask sharp questions to get the best out of lawyers. There is no pulling up, tearing into or lambasting involved in the oral argument-based judicial scrutiny system in India. There is a talk of restraining judges from making comments on institutions. If anyone has to exercise restraint, it is the reporters who cover the courts, not the judges nor the lawyers who must not be inhibited in any manner from free and frank exchange of views.”

Counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan said the investigating agencies had been regularly leaking information to media to prejudice an accused branding him as a terrorist though ultimately he might get acquitted in a trial. Appearing for Rajasthan government, counsel Manish Singhvi said a state producing clear and cogent evidence of consistent media misreporting could seek temporary deferment of publication for a limited period.

“However, the order for postponement of publication must be direct, proximate with investigation and must be least intrusive to the freedom of press/electronic media. Thus, the press has a right to report even criminal sub-judice matters as long as they do not impair or destroy fair investigation,” he said. Singhvi said subordinate courts had sovereign power to dispense justice and hence, they had inherent powers to pass appropriate orders to secure the ends of justice.

Don’t lay guidelines, outline contours of press freedom: Salve

Posted in MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 19, 2012

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: Former solicitor general Harish Salve on Wednesday said the Supreme Court should make the media aware of the boundaries within which it must operate while reporting court proceedings and suggested that the constitutional court must bring clarity to the contours of press freedom to prevent breach of a citizen’s right to fair trial and right to life with dignity, guaranteed under Article 21.

He agreed with most lawyers in telling a five-judge bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, R P Desai and J S Khehar that it was not for the apex court to frame guidelines but disagreed with other senior advocates who had said that the court could have a case-to-case approach in scrutinizing media reports for transgression of right to life related sub-rights of an accused or a private citizen.

“The Supreme Court is not Press Council of India to tell the media what should not have been written. Media too cannot decide what should be the spread and extent of its right to report conferred on it to meet the people’s right to know. So, the Supreme Court is the only organ under the Constitution which can bring clarity by declaring the contours of right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) by balancing it against the crucial right to life,” Salve said.

“What the Supreme Court declares as the limits under Article 19(1)(a) will be abided by the responsible media, most of whom are very responsible. That is the surest way to safeguard citizen’s right to life which encompasses their right to privacy and right to live with dignity in a society,” said Salve, who appeared in an application moved by Vodafone months ago complaining about misreporting.

The senior advocate said continuous commentary on the merits of a case while it was being argued and targeting of individuals by media had a chilling effect on judges and lawyers, inhibiting free and frank discussion in a court room. “After all, judges and lawyers are human beings. The court should clarify if such reporting puts in peril such discussion during court proceedings,” he said.

Salve said government’s affidavits could be reported by the press even before it came up for court scrutiny. But if scurrilous allegations were made in any affidavit branding people as terrorists, murderers or money launderers, then the media has to wait till the court scrutinizes the contents of the affidavit in an open court hearing, he said.

The bench asked, “In our country the ground reality is that suit for damages or defamation is not an efficacious remedy against such errant reporting as it would take 20 years for conclusion of such proceedings. Will a high court or the Supreme Court be accused of violating Article 19(1)(a) if it entertained a petition from a person aggrieved by scurrilous allegations reported in the media and passed a temporary restraint order?”

Salve said constitutional courts would be well within their limits to entertain and pass appropriate orders on a writ petition from a private citizen complaining that his/her reputation was being destroyed by scurrilous allegations repeatedly reported by TV channels or print media.

If Salve cited Nupur Talwar case to point at spurious effects of brazen media coverage on a person and his right to fair trial, former law minister Ram Jethmalani cited the Jessica Lal murder case proceedings in Delhi High Court to highlight miscarriage of justice because of sustained media campaign.

Before concluding his arguments, Jethmalani said the courts have power to order repeat publication of material that hurt the right of the accused to fair trial or interference in the administration of justice. “Guidelines on media reporting will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it may create additional problems. The solution lies in enforcing Contempt of Court Act. Send one or two persons to jail under the contempt law and that will bring sanity in reporting,” Jethmalani said.

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Judiciary can’t regulate press freedom: Jethmalani

Posted in MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 19, 2012
Ram Jethmalani (born September 10, 1923) is an...

Ram Jethmalani (born September 10, 1923) is an Indian politician and a famous and controversial criminal lawyer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: Former law minister, MP and senior advocate Ram Jethmalani on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it would be unconstitutional to curtail or regulate press freedom through judicially evolved guidelines because Parliament alone was competent to undertake this exercise through legislative route.

Appearing for a media association before a five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana P Desai and J S Khehar, the octogenarian lawyer suggested that the best method to evolve guidelines for reporting subjudice matters without infringing the rights of the accused was to seek consensus through meetings between judges, lawyers and leaders of the media.

“The guideline evolved through this process could be recommended to Parliament for appropriate legislative action. I can assure you that Parliament would act on such a recommendation,” he said.

Though the bench had doubts about the efficacy of normative guidelines in protecting fair trial because of excessive reporting intruding into the domain of judges in certain cases, it said, “If we have to recommend, we will do so. There is no problem at all. But the limited question is what should the court do when a person approaches it complaining against media’s blatant breach of his right to presumption of innocence till pronounced guilty? Would the court be breaching Article 19 if it protects the right of the accused by ordering deferment of reporting for a short period.”

Jethmalani was unrelenting. He said, “A pre-publication ban is ultra vires. A guideline to this effect is unconstitutional. Even if the Supreme Court has some legislative power, when the issue involves Article 19, restrictions must come from a statute made by Parliament.”

However, he agreed that if a constitutional court was convinced that a newspaper report compromised the right of an accused and jeopardized fair trial or administration of justice, it could surely put a ban on subsequent publication of the matter.

Jethmalani said the malady of misreporting or biased reporting could be controlled if the judges shed their populist approach and sent a couple of errant journalists to jail under contempt of court law.

“Contempt of court law is not invoked as much as it should be to invoke the fear of god in journalists. The court will not have to worry about media guidelines if contempt jurisdiction is invoked and sent a message that press cannot get away with contemptuous reports,” he said.

Appearing for the Statesman newspaper, counsel Madhavi Goradia Divan argued against court-framed media guidelines saying mere reporting of trial proceedings would not vilify anyone as the public was aware of the cardinal principle ‘presumption of innocence till pronounced guilty’.

On the flip side, she said well-intentioned guidelines could be taken out of context and attempts would be made to achieve something which was completely different from what the court was intending to do. “The trial courts are well aware of the powers conferred on them to control reporting of proceedings in a criminal case,” she said.

The bench clarified, “Our effort is not to punish but to prevent. This exercise is an awareness process for everyone. We want to put in guidelines to avoid certain situations by deferring reporting for a limited period of time. We are not going into reporting of other wings of government but of a limited restraint on reporting as far as court proceedings are concerned.” The arguments will continue on Wednesday.

Judiciary can’t regulate press freedom: Jethmalani

Warding Off The Eye

Posted in CONSTITUTION, FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 14, 2012
MEDIA VS SUPREME COURT

MEDIA VS SUPREME COURT

ANURADHA RAMAN IN THE OUTLOOK
The judiciary and Parliament seem to think they could do with less coverage
 The Problem Of Too Much Attention
  1. A PIL in Feb alleged that CJI Kapadia had a conflict of interest in the Vodafone tax case. It was dismissed; a penalty was imposed.
  2. Advocate Harish Salve says he was misquoted in the Vodafone matter. Eligibility criterion spelt out for court reporters.
  3. In Mar, CJI says reports on the disproportionate assets of ex-CJI K.G. Balakrishnan are upsetting
  4. SC hurt by reports of a judge listing her daughters in ‘liabilities’
  5. Advocate Fali Nariman says a confidential exchange between his client Sahara and SEBI was leaked on TV. CJI directs parties to make submission in the matter.
  6. Court expresses concern over how the media reported on events surrounding the murder of Arushi Talwar and on her personal life

***

Over the last couple of days, two pillars of democracy have decided that the media must be kept on a leash. First, the Lok Sabha secretariat declared that the media would not be allowed in the vicinity of parliamentary standing and joint committee meetings. Reporters usually hang about for informal briefings from MP acquaintances—it’s the life-breath of in-depth coverage of Parliament. Media professionals wonder if the unprecedented order is timed to prevent reporting on the three defence chiefs’ appearance before a parliamentary committee, slated for April 20. Second, the Allahabad High Court prohibited the media from writing or reporting further on the sensational news of troop movements towards Delhi on Jan 16-17. The Union i&b ministry followed up with an advisory seeking strict adherence to the court order. The two restrictions come even as the Supreme Court is mulling guidelines for law reporters covering it.

So, is this the system recoiling at all those big news stories of scams and criminal investigations that have come out recently? Media professionals feel these ‘guidelines’ would end up stifling them. The bigger fear is that, when institutions like the Supreme Court and the Lok Sabha start writing rulebooks for the media, they might prompt others—say the bureaucracy and the police—to do so too. The cascading effect could shrink the space of reporting in the same proportion as RTI added to it.

It was in the backdrop of an information explosion triggered by television channels, where opinions were sought and decisions arrived at swiftly, that the Law Commission finalised its 2006 report, ‘Trial by Media’, framing guidelines for reporting on criminal proceedings in court. The report makes a case for not covering a trial till it is concluded. It is learnt the Centre is in active consultation with the states on the commission’s report.

As the five-judge constitution bench under the Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia, engages in a threadbare discussion on the media with advocates of freedom of the press and others, it is perhaps time to ask, as indeed the court is doing, whether guidelines regulating the media are required at all. In fact, is there any reason to suppose that media coverage has led to miscarriage of justice. And have existing guidelines failed? Linked to both questions is the public’s right to know and be informed.

Already, there are quite a few guidelines to begin with. There’s the Press Council Act of 1979, though its powers could be debated. Presided over by a retired judge and with journalists and newspapers’ representatives on the board, the council has the power to censure, warn and admonish the press if it fails to adhere to the guidelines. Its present head, Justice Markandeya Katju, has called the Allahabad High Court’s gag order “not correct” and said that “the media has a fundamental right to make such a publication, as it did not endanger national security”.

Then, there’s the News Broadcasting Authority of India (NBA), a self-regulatory body of broadcasters with academics, eminent persons and a former CJI on its rolls. It has a detailed programme code, advocates voluntary adherence and imposes penalties. After the 28/11 attack on Mumbai, it had drawn up rules for reportage by the electronic media.

In his capacity as chairperson of NBA, which is a party to the SC’s deliberations guidelines for the media, former CJI J.S. Verma says, “I feel that, as there are already guidelines drawn up by the channels themselves, the bench in my view could suggest modifications if it so wished. In fact, if the judiciary says compliance with existing guidelines is desirable, that itself will have the desired effect.” Verma—who is often openly critical of media reports—thinks peer pressure works better than imposed guidelines.

Other senior lawyers hold the view that the court has no power to make laws. Former SC judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer calls the SC’s attempt to regulate the media a case of judicial overreach. “It’s Parliament that has the right to legislate, not the court.”

Though the chief justice of India has repeatedly clarified that the aim is to regulate, not control, these recent exercises are seen as part of an overall process to control a media that is seen as increasingly critical and combative. The judiciary and the media, which appeared to be working in tandem at one point, now appear to have fallen out.

Does the public have a right to know about how justice is delivered? And if it does, how will that happen if reporters are not permitted to report? Such a move would also run against the open court proceedings our judiciary has adopted till now. There are many who suggest that instead of a broad arc of guidelines, what is required is a case-to-case examination. If an error takes place due to the media, there are adequate grievance redressal structures within the courts in the form of contempt and defamation laws. Moreover, journalists enjoys no special immunities or privileges by law.

Says Kumar Ketkar, editor of Divya Bhaskar, “I am quite critical of the media, but I feel the Supreme Court is overstepping its brief in wanting to frame guidelines for court reporting as the move creates an impression that the court alone is the upholder of integrity, sovereignty and the national interest. This is unfortunate. It would also appear that court and the media are in direct confrontation with each other.”

Adds Arnab Goswami, head of Time Now, “If everything now becomes a matter of litigation, there will be nothing to report on. What will we report on?”

ANURADHA RAMAN IN THE OUTLOOK

Supreme but not infallible

Posted in CONSTITUTION, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 14, 2012

Supreme Court of India

NIKHIL KANEKAL IN THE MINT

Constitutional battles are usually delicious if you’re a geeky spectator of parliamentarians, policy wonks and jurists. It’s not fun to be one of the embattled sides in an unfair fight.

Journalists like to believe…that all constitutional rights depend on the right to know and the right to know depends on a free press”—Benjamin C. Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post, 2 June 1974. Constitutional battles are usually delicious if you’re a geeky spectator of parliamentarians, policy wonks and jurists. It’s not fun to be one of the embattled sides in an unfair fight.

The battle is unfair because the media is being forced to fight against the judiciary on the latter’s turf. A constitutional bench of five judges in the Supreme Court of India has set out to create a framework for the press to report on the judiciary and its proceedings. The press, unlike Parliament or the executive, has no further remedy once it gets tied down by the Supreme Court. Through Indian constitutional history, the court has been the custodian of free speech and, indirectly, of an uncurtailed and robust press. As it stands, the protector is threatening to limit our rights. Given that the court’s verdict is bound to affect the way people like me carry out our trade, I’m not pleased about the scenario in the least, especially since so much that needs to be said on our behalf is not even coming before the bench.

Yes, journalists are being represented in the case—Rajeev Dhavan has argued for the Editors’ Guild of India and the Forum for Media Professionals, Anil Divan represented The Hindu and Prashant Bhushan argued for Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu. Other bodies such as the self-regulatory body for 46 television channels, News Broadcasters Association, the Indian Newspapers Society and the Press Council of India are being heard by the court.

I don’t blame the judges for not understanding the nuances involving journalistic craft. They are judges, not journalists. If it were so easy to understand how reporters, editors and newsrooms worked, there would be no such confrontation between the two sides. And the same is true of the media—few people in newsrooms really understand how the judiciary works.

The language of both the professions also causes mutual tension. To a journalist sitting on a newsdesk, the words “suit” and “petition” are interchangeable, and a headline writer is more likely to use the former because it fits in a smaller space. To lawyers and judges, the gulf between a judge’s quote in a news story suffixed with “said the judge” and “observed the court” is massive. The former might well be an order or directive, while the latter could merely form part of the debate between the bar and the bench. After all, judges must throw searching questions at lawyers in order to properly excavate the points of dispute. The line of questioning, while it is a good indication, doesn’t necessarily mean that the court will eventually rule in that direction.

If you read multiple newspaper reports of the same court case and compare them, they might seem like accounts from different hearings. This is because daily hearings go on for hours, more so in appellate courts. A journalist will have only a few hundred words, or a few minutes of airtime, to tell a story. Obviously the newsiest details must make it to the top—the inverted pyramid rule. And this is not usually the most crucial legal argument being propounded in a case.

Eventually, lawyers think court reporters have done a bad job. The challenge is to succinctly summarize the proceedings. Different newspapers and television channels have varying styles of presenting news.

To most journalists, especially those who don’t normally report court-related news, when a lawyer opens his mouth, all that comes out is legalese.

To be sure, the judges may decide after the hearings are completed not to do anything that may be seen to be muzzling press freedom. The Supreme Court has also clarified that the ongoing constitutional bench hearings dealing with media coverage of sub judice cases will be restricted to questions of law related only to this aspect.

But we must ask the questions since it is germane to the arguments before the court: Is the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench the right forum to resolve bad journalism that emanates from our courts? Do the judges and lawyers appearing before them have the necessary expertise to deal with the myriad issues at hand, especially if they are not of a litigious nature? Does the court have the power to tell the media how it might report judicial proceedings?

What’s happening isn’t new. There have been similar breakdowns between the courts and the press elsewhere.

In March 1975, the top jurists, lawyers, editors, reporters, government officials and other stakeholders in the US came together in what has come to be known as the Washington Conference. Both sides “tested the high ground of principle against the erosive force of real world legal and journalistic practice, agreed to disagree, sometimes even agreed, and learned more about each other than was previously known,” reads a brief preview to the discussions at the conference. Jurists and journalists sat together and while mutually devising solutions, respected each other’s domain.

In 2009, a committee of judges and journalists in the UK decided how reportage would be conducted in the criminal courts.

Dhavan has already submitted to the Indian Supreme Court that a similar joint committee of members from the press and the judiciary would be the best way out of the woods we now find ourselves in. After all, there is no defending bad journalism.

Respond to this column at nikhil.k@livemint.com

NIKHIL KANEKAL IN THE MINT

Press Council for court guidelines, The Hindu opposes idea

Posted in CENSORSHIP LAW, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on April 11, 2012

Don’t embark on a futile exercise, Shanti Bhushan tells Supreme Court Constitution Bench

The Press Council of India (PCI) on Tuesday suggested that the Supreme Court frame guidelines for the media as these would be in the interest of not only administration of justice and rights of the litigant public but also the media themselves.

“The media, both print and electronic, have been playing an important role in shaping and sustaining Indian democracy,” senior counsel P.P. Rao, appearing for the PCI, told a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia. “The scheme of the Press Council Act itself shows that the intention of Parliament is to allow self-regulation by the media as far as possible. While the print media is within the purview of the Press Council Act, the electronic media is not. Therefore, it is desirable to lay down guidelines for both the print and electronic media to follow in reporting court proceedings, rather than making statutory rules.”

Mr. Rao told the Bench, which included Justices D.K. Jain, S.S. Nijjar, Ranjana Desai and J.S. Khehar, that the court, while framing the guidelines, might take into consideration the relevant norms of journalistic conduct laid down by the PCI. Explaining the powers of the PCI, counsel said: “Section 14(1) of the Press Council Act confers on the Council power to warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, news agency, the editor and the journalist or disapprove [of] the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be, after holding an enquiry into the complaints. The Council, which is presided over by a retired judge of this court and in which editors, working journalists and managements of big, medium and small newspapers are represented, has laid down Norms of Journalistic Conduct. Self-regulation is always better than statutory regulation. However, when any TV channel, newspaper or news agency fails to adhere to the guidelines laid down by this court, appropriate orders may be passed in the facts and circumstances of each case.”

“Dissolve Bench”

The former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, appearing for some journalists, asked the CJI to dissolve the Constitution Bench hearing the present case, saying it would be a futile exercise. He cited an instance of the former CJI, Justice A.N. Ray, dissolving a 13-judge Bench after he found no support for his case. Mr. Bhushan was referring to a move by Justice Ray, who set up the 13-judge Bench to reconsider the Kesavananda Bharti judgment in which the court had held that Parliament had no right to amend the basic structure of the Constitution.

Mr. Bhushan asked the Bench not to embark on a futile exercise which would be detrimental to the rights of the press and destroy democracy in this country. “No purpose will be solved by going through this exercise.”

Taking the Anna Hazare argument, he argued that people were sovereign in India. “That is the reason why even the right to freedom of press was not absolute in this country. It was instead left to Parliament to lay down reasonable restrictions on this freedom. All institutions in our democracy are people’s institutions. Even the judiciary is accountable to the people. People have a right to know what is happening.”

“Abridge freedom”

Senior counsel Anil Divan, appearing for the Editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, commenced his arguments, pointing out the anomaly of the court deciding to lay down guidelines which in this case would “abridge” the freedoms of individuals instead of “protecting” them or “disciplining” officials. Mr. Divan cited the ‘Visakha judgment,’ saying that in that case the court was only seeking to protect fundamental rights of citizens. But in this case the Bench was embarking on a quasi-legislative exercise as once the court framed guidelines they would become immune from judicial review. “I will have no remedy. But tomorrow, if Parliament were to adopt these guidelines, the person aggrieved will have a remedy. I can challenge them before you.”

Mr. Divan said the exercise undertaken by the court was not prudent in view of globalisation of information dissemination technology. “If the guidelines will be coercive or binding in nature, then it is covered by the legislative process.”

The CJI intervened, and said: “The deliberations on the guidelines were not a result of adversarial litigation. We are only trying to regulate the media to the extent that the rights of person in criminal cases are protected under Article 21 [Right to life and liberty] of the Constitution.”

The CJI asked Mr. Divan to address the question whether the rights of the press could be balanced to ensure administration of justice and protect the rights of the accused to ensure a free trial in a criminal case.

Arguments will continue on Wednesday.

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