Warding Off The Eye

MEDIA VS SUPREME COURT

MEDIA VS SUPREME COURT

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

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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

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Reporting guidelines: Supreme Court expands scope of deliberations

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

A petitioner has pleaded the Supreme Court to frame guidelines and norms for coverage of criminal cases pending investigation “so that the right of privacy and to live with dignity is not at the mercy of irresponsible press or media as has been done in the case of the recent Aarushi murder case”.

 NEW DELHI: The purview of the Supreme Court’s deliberations to frame guidelines for how 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.

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 organizations to intervene in the deliberations.

During the discussions, the court had appeared to narrow down the issue before it to a debate on the framing of guidelines for reporting of criminal trials to guard against violation of Article 21 guaranteeing right of an accused to reputation and dignity and to ensure that his trial does not get prejudiced, and the witness protection mechanism is not impacted.

However, on April 4, the court ordered inclusion of four more media guideline-related petitions, two of which were pending since 1999 and 2000, within the zone of consideration by permitting the parties involved to make submissions on “framing of guidelines for reporting of cases in media” when the matter is taken up for hearing on April 10. This at once broadened the scope of the exercise.

The issues raised in these four petitions include norms for news coverage in electronic media, norms and guidelines to minimize presentation of sexual abuse and violence on TV channels, contempt proceedings against journalists for publishing confessional statements of accused before police and making police liable for damages for tarnishing the reputation of an accused by releasing details of investigation into a case.

In Criminal Appeal No. 1255 of 1999 titled PUCL vs State of Maharashtra, the News Broadcasters Association had desired to intervene and assist the apex court on the issue of “what norms should govern news coverage by the electronic media”. On November 5, 2008, a bench headed by Justice Dalveer Bhandari had issued notices to all state and Union Territory governments.

The writ petition (civil) No. 387 of 2000 titled Common Cause vs Union of India last came up for hearing before the court in July 2009. The relief sought by the NGO was to “prescribe definite norms and guidelines for minimization of presentation of scenes of violence and sexual abuse in serials and programmes telecast by TV channels for avoidance of undesirable mental impact on the viewers, particularly children”.

In the transfer case 27 of 2011, NGO Anhad had sought initiation of contempt proceedings against two senior journalists for “publishing confessional statements of accused before police and thereby prejudicing or tending to prejudice the due course of judicial proceedings of those accused”.

Ban sought on cops leaking case information

Anhad had also sought a direction to the government to lay down guidelines “to be followed by both police and media regarding release of evidence or information and its publication against the accused claimed to be obtained by police during interrogation or investigation when the matter is sub-judice”.

The fourth petition included in the list was a writ petition filed by Dr Surat Singh in 2008 in the aftermath of media reporting of UP police’s version of the Aarushi murder case and the role of the accused. He had sought a complete ban on police leaking any information to media about pending investigations. He had also requested the court to make police officers personally liable for rushing to media and “making adverse comments or character assassination of an accused or his family members/friends or about the victim”.

Singh had sought framing of guidelines and norms for coverage of criminal cases pending investigation “so that the right of privacy and to live with dignity is not at the mercy of irresponsible press or media as has been done in the case of the recent Aarushi murder case”.

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