Media cannot reject regulation

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.)

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

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

Supreme but not infallible

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

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.

The public needs both gavel and pen

The public needs both gavel and pen
The public needs both gavel and pen

SIDARTH VARDRAJAN IN THE HINDU

The Supreme Court’s proposal to impose guidelines on how to report cases will be harmful to press freedom and democracy, the bedrock of which is an informed public.

The Judiciary is the third branch of government. As with the Executive and Legislature, the public has a right to see and know and understand the functioning of this branch. That is why India, like every other democracy, has embraced the concept of open court proceedings and trials, except in those situations where, for security or other compelling reasons, in camera hearings are required.

In the Mirajkar case (Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar And Ors vs State Of Maharashtra And Anr on 3 March, 1966) a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court under its legendary Chief Justice, P.B. Gajendragadkar, held that “save in exceptional cases, the proceedings of a Court of justice should be open to the public”.

“A Court of justice is a public forum”, the 1966 judgment declares. “It is through publicity that the citizens are convinced that the Court renders evenhanded justice, and it is, therefore, necessary that the trial should be open to the public and there should be no restraint on the publication of the report of the Court proceedings. The publicity generates public confidence in the administration of justice. In rare and exceptional cases only, the Court may hold the trial behind closed doors, or may forbid the publication of the report of its proceedings during the pendency of the litigation.” (emphasis added)

Unrestricted openness

Once the objective of a public trial in open court is accepted, it is obvious that this openness cannot be restricted to those members of the public who have the facility and inclination to be present in a given court at a given time; rather, the reference is to the wider public, to the citizenry as a whole. The only way court proceedings, and the wider functioning of the judicial system, can be subject to public scrutiny is if the media — who are the people’s eyes and ears — have the freedom to both be present in open court and to give an account of what transpires in open court.

It is thanks to contemporary newspaper reports of the day-to-day hearings in landmark cases like Kesavanada Bharati (1973) (certainly in The Hindu, and perhaps elsewhere too) that the public then — and legal scholars now — have an accurate picture of all the intricacies involved, including the oral arguments made and questions raised by the Bench. Many more such examples can be cited.

To be sure, covering the courts requires skill, competence and some domain knowledge of the law, in much the same way that coverage of foreign policy, defence, business and finance, and even politics requires reporters knowledgeable about those subjects. The Supreme Court has seen fit to specify that accredited correspondents must possess a law degree; it has also quantified the amount of reporting experience, at different levels of the judiciary, that these correspondents must have. No other branch of government or public or private institution — not the armed forces or Defence Ministry, not the Ministry of External Affairs, the Police, the Ministry of Agriculture or Health — has insisted on a degree or professional qualification as a condition for accreditation. Nor to my knowledge is a law degree a requirement to get accreditation as a correspondent to the Supreme Courts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, etc. I raise this point here not to challenge the Supreme Court of India‘s system of media accreditation, but merely to note that having raised the bar for entry, imposing further restrictions in the form of guidelines on these correspondents — all of whom have been allowed in precisely because of their knowledge of, and sensitivity towards, the functioning of the Court — seems especially superfluous.

No doubt the most experienced and knowledgeable reporter can make a mistake on a particular matter. These mistakes can be harmless, hurting only the reputation of the concerned journalist or media house. But there can be mistakes which have consequences for the reputations of the parties to a case and their counsel, or to the Bench and Court. If an error by a reporter has adverse consequences for the reputation or standing of the Court or plaintiffs, remedies exist under existing statute and court procedures and it is up to the Bench or the affected parties to invoke those remedies. If a factual mistake has been made, or wrong information conveyed, no media house can claim immunity, on the basis of press freedom, from the ordinary process of law. If the error is innocent, and the Court is convinced this is so, the matter might rest with a simple apology; if, on the other hand, mala fide is suspected, the Court is empowered to take punitive action.

Given these remedies, none of which are necessarily inconsistent with constitutionally guaranteed press freedoms, it would seem unnecessary to impose a regime of “prior restraint” or even “temporary postponement” via guidelines on what aspects of court proceedings may be reported. Indeed, such a regime would have a chilling effect on media coverage of the Supreme Court and, eventually, the entire judiciary, at great cost to the general interest of society.

It is true that the Law Commission has recommended ‘postponement’ of reportage citing jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada, where jury trials are sought to be insulated from public opinion. But in India, there is no trial by jury; and surely the judicial independence of judges — and their vulnerability to what appears in the media — cannot be the same as that of the average citizen-juror.

Of course, it is a matter of concern that sections of the print and visual media sometimes report police accounts of crimes without the necessary qualifiers demonstrating that the truth of the matter is not known. Worse still, these accounts are often attributed not to named officers but to ‘anonymous’ police sources. An individual may thus stand “convicted” in the eyes of the public without any recourse to corrective measures. The bald reporting of a petitioner’s claims or accusations can also mislead the public if presented as fact. These are real problems that require remedying. However, a true reading of Article 19 of the Constitution requires that the press regulate itself in this regard and strive, as a collective, for the highest ethical standards. Given the public’s growing disenchantment with the media in the wake of various scandals, it is also in the media’s interest to heal itself. This is a subject journalists are pursuing at multiple levels within the print media and there is also the oversight of the Press Council of India, which, under the chairmanship of Justice Markandey Katju, has re-energised itself. Imposing further judicial restrictions on democratic access to information concerning Supreme Court proceedings would amount to overkill.

Undermines people’s right

My apprehension is that if the Supreme Court, which sits at the apex of the third branch of government, were to insist that reporters covering it abide by guidelines that the Court itself lays down, this would open the door to the other branches of government — that too, at all levels — making similar demands on the media as a precondition to gaining access to Parliament and Legislatures, Ministries, public institutions, hospitals, universities, etc. The natural instinct of most politicians and bureaucrats is to hide or suppress information on one pretext or another. The adoption of media guidelines by the Supreme Court would embolden them, further undermining the public’s right to be informed. Recently, for example, a Karnataka Assembly committee tasked with investigating the scandal involving Ministers caught on camera watching pornographic material sought to blame the media for recording what the Ministers were doing. Shouldn’t you be focusing just on the official Assembly proceedings, journalists were asked.

Courts in open societies elsewhere, particularly in North America, may have had occasion to be upset with media coverage of cases but they have not sought to frame guidelines of the sort being envisaged by the Supreme Court of India. The only etiquette rules courts in the United States seem to focus on are the circumstances under which journalists may use recording devices and cameras. Today, the debate on this issue in the United States is focused on whether journalists should be allowed to carry mobile devices into the Supreme Court so that they can “tweet” live from inside without having to come outside the courtroom. The court forbids this. At issue, however, is not the right of the journalist to provide near-live coverage of a hearing, should she so desire but only whether she can use the communication technology on court premises.

Of course, journalists and editors should be honest in accepting that the reason the Supreme Court — and the government — want to step in is because the media act as if they are not accountable to anyone. Aggrieved citizens have no forum they can approach for an effective and swift remedy in the event of being injured by misreporting. Unless newspapers and television stations get serious about self-regulation, the pressure of external regulation will always remain.

SC will begin contemplating ‘framing of guidelines’ for court reporters

Supreme Court of India

MID DAY

Come Tuesday, the Supreme Court will begin contemplating ‘framing of guidelines’ for court reporters. How the hearings play out affects both reporters and you, the citizen

Picture this: After months of waiting, your property dispute or society imbroglio finally comes up for hearing. Enter the court reporter — seeing his presence in the court causes a palpable impact on the behaviour of lawyers and judges alike.  However, if the Supreme Court of India has its way this Tuesday, court reporters across India will now have to follow guidelines on how to report matters of their beat. The court will be hearing interventions in the matter of ‘framing of guidelines for reporting of cases in media.’

The guidelines the Supreme Court frames potentially impact coverage of all courts in India. In 2007, the SC had also framed a similar set of norms for accreditation of legal correspondents covering the apex court, which, among other things, insisted that journalists have a law degree, and a certain amount of experience. On March 20, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia took up the issue of framing guidelines for the media to report cases in courts. The setting up of the Constitution Bench by the CJI comes in the wake of misreporting of court hearings and leaking of confidential information affecting litigants.

Open court
Veteran journalist and columnist MJ Antony considered the impact the move would have on the freedom of the press. “If a report is found to have been in violation of the guidelines, are we going to scrutinise individual paragraphs to prove it? Who will be held liable for the mistake? What is the punishment and what is the remedy?” Besides, he points out that all media organisations have their own code of conduct, besides which exist bodies like the National Broadcast Association and the Press Council of India. Advocate Madhavi Divan, author of Facets of Media Law, a commentary on aspects of media law and its regulation emphasised that the ‘open justice system’ must not be forgotten. “Traditionally, any member of the public could come in and watch court proceedings. The logic of this has been that the public should be allowed to understand the administration of justice. As they say, ‘justice must seem to be done’.”

But she adds that the media is in a slightly different position. “Unlike the American Constitution, ours confers no special status to the press beyond ‘freedom of speech and expression‘, but the media still remains a trustee. The public relies on the media for responsible dissemination of news, and this must be taken into account. As long as the guidelines do not unreasonably restrict the freedom of speech and expression, the media cannot protest.”  Welcoming the move, court reporter-turned-advocate Rajiv Wagh said, “Reporting court proceedings is quite different from covering politics or crime. One does not need technical knowledge to cover those subjects. Some training imparted by news organisations would be helpful. The court itself could also consider running short training programs specifically for court reporters.”

To some extent, adds Antony, the media can correct its own mistakes. “If a doctor makes a mistake, the patient may die. If a structural engineer makes a mistake, a building might collapse. But if a newspaper makes a mistake, it can issue a clarification and rectify it.”

The biggest problem, say journalists, is the lack of a proper channel to dispense information from courts in real-time. Many orders and judgements are uploaded on the Internet, but that is often too late for reporters to make a good story of. Reporters must also be familiar with the laws of contempt, in order to safeguard their interests and yet manage to break stories.

Motive and Intent

Above all, added Wagh, your motives should be clear. “You can tell from a report when a story is motivated. When your motives are clear and your only  intent is  to get the truth out, you will rarely get into trouble.”  There is also an urgent need to implement a system of cross-verifying what a reporter hears in court. Divan said, “There has been talk of implementing video recording, which would go a long way in preventing inaccuracies. Abroad, every word uttered in court is recorded in writing, so the question of misreporting doesn’t arise.”

Concluded Divan, “It is unfortunate that the courts have had to step in; it should not have come to this. The media ought to have regulated itself from the outset.”

http://www.mid-day.com/news/2012/mar/250312-SC-will-begin-contemplating-framing-of-guidelines-for-court-reporters.htm

Why such mismatch between public statements and responsibility?

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Elections energize a common man to push a small button on a voting machine with a prayer that his vote goes to a responsible person who as the people’s representative in the assembly or Parliament will safeguard his interests and better his conditions. Since poll speeches are not on signed stamp paper, politicians often attempt to promise the moon to the electorate. In the process, many stray outside the Model Code of Conduct zealously enforced by the Election Commission to keep the polls an even contest between ruling party candidates and other hopefuls.

Prior to appointment of T N Seshan as chief election commissioner on December 12, 1990, the model code of conduct was violated by candidates with impunity. Seshan cracked the constitutional whip and succeeded in cajoling strict adherence to the model code of conduct by political parties and candidates.

Elections are meant to send responsible persons as people’s representatives. But often, elections stir the political and social atmosphere to the extent of making even the most sober among the politicians give statements in clear breach of the model code of conduct.

First, it was law minister Salman Khurshid who made a poll promise of carving out quota for Muslims in jobs. Within a week of him being chastised by the EC, fellow Congressman Beni Prasad Verma repeated the mistake and dared EC to take action. Why did Khurshid, who knows law better than most, commit such a folly? And despite his clear indictment, why would his colleague follow suit?

If these two incidents were not enough, another minister Sriprakash Jaiswal goofed up by declaring that if a Congress government was formed in Uttar Pradesh after the elections, there would be President’s rule.

Threat to impose central rule in a state in the midst of a multi-phase election process is a serious breach of model code of conduct capable of influencing people to cast votes in a particular way.

Whatever be the motive behind these statements, a particular dumbness appears to infect politicians during elections when they refuse to learn from mistakes. They forget that democracy flourishes only in a democratic atmosphere and under democratic conditions.

The same cannot be true of Press Council of India chairperson Justice Markandey Katju, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. It was least expected of Justice Katju, who has tremendous knowledge of law and apex court judgments, to threaten a state government with dismissal.

Looking into certain incidents of violence against journalists in Maharashtra and the state government persistently ignoring PCI’s notices, Justice Katju recently issued a showcause notice accompanied with a threat that if this time the state failed to respond, he would recommend to President to “dismiss the state government” under Article 356(1) of the Constitution.

The Congress-NCP government must be laughing as Justice Katju’s threat is more hilarious than legal. Those who have read the apex court’s landmark judgments on Article 356 in S R Bommai case, Kihoto Holohon case, State of Rajasthan case and the latest one in Rameshwar Prasad case would be scratching their heads in bewilderment. For, the Constitution vests the governor of the state concerned and none else with the power to recommend dismissal of a state government.

The streak of irresponsibility found in persons holding high offices had made the Supreme Court to say, “It is incumbent on each occupant of every high office to be constantly aware of the power in the high office he holds that is meant to be exercised in public interest and only for public good, and that it is not meant to be used for any personal benefit or merely to elevate the personal status of the current holder of that office.” [Rameshwar Prasad vs Union of India, 2006 (2) SCC 1].

For similar reasons, Seshan, despite transforming the Election Commission from a constitutional “lamb” to a “roaring tiger” ready to bite rogue politicians, too faced the apex court’s flak when he imagined himself to be the sole dictatorial protector of elections, which is the heart of democracy.

In T N Seshan vs Uuion of India [1995 (4) SCC 611], the SC had said, “His (Seshan’s) public utterances at times were so abrasive that this court had to caution him to exercise restraint on more occasions than one… This gave the impression that he was keen to project his own image. That he has very often been in newspapers and magazines and on television cannot be denied… The CEC has been seen in a commercial on television and in newspaper advertisement… The CEC is, it would appear, totally oblivious to sense of decorum and discretion that his high office requires even if the cause was laudable.”

We sincerely hope politicians and holders of high offices will take a look at the 1995 judgment and bring sobriety into their public utterances.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Why-such-mismatch-between-public-statements-and-responsibility/articleshow/12048723.cms