Media on trial
My Lords (Justice SH Kapadia, Justice DK Jain, Justice SS Nijjar, Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice JS Kehar),
"News is something someone somewhere is trying to suppress the rest is advertising," said a British publisher. All journalists worth their salt have followed this principle in their pursuit of news and truth. But today, Your Lordships, sitting in a Constitution bench of five judges, want to guide us to protect the rights of those accused in criminal cases. It Is for the first time, in the 60 years of the Supreme Court, that a muzzle of this sort is being attempted to be imposed.
My Lords, this exercise to curb the freedom of press has been taken up by this court at the instance of a company which sees itself as an accused under the scanner of the SEBI. The company says that a confidential proposal sent by them to SEBI was leaked to the media. The media, by reporting the matter, has caused loss to the company. Ironically Sahara too runs a big media venture.
My Lords, it may have surprised you that on Tuesday, Sahara'S most eminent counsel Fali S Nariman, has opposed any sort of shackles on the media. In fact he went to the extent of questioning the powers of the courts to regulate the media's exercise of the Right of Free Speech, a position supported by other senior advocates including the Attorney General of India.
My Lords, in this era of transparency and openness, you continue to be the guarantors and protectors of fundamental rights and civil liberties. You are the sentinels on the qui vie. The Supreme Court of India, cannot be perceived as regressively hurtling backwards to the era of the emergency.
But what My Lords seem to be bothered with is sensationalism or reporting that would affect the rights of accused in criminal cases.
My Lords, the law proclaims that all accused are innocent until proven guilty. Meaning all accused are innocent unless pronounced so by a court of law. Agreed. But lets just pause here for a moment and look at what my lords are proposing to do. My lords propose that there should be a ban on publication of details of a case which is sensitive or may affect administration of justice.
My Lords pointed out the case of a Uma Kurana, a school teacher in Delhi who was pronounced guilty by the media of forcing students into prostitution. All this even before any investigation against her could be over. This certainly is an instance of media overdrive. But let me also point out that the channel that broadcast this news was penalised and pulled off air for such malicious reporting. Even the correspondent responsible for this was sent behind bars.
Moreover, My Lords, such instances are very few, a number that can be counted on fingers as opposed to instances in which media reporting has done good for the country. Lets not forget the petrol pump scam, the Zahira Sheikh story, the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games scam and the memory loss of its chief protagonist Suresh Kalmadi.
My Lords, it will not be out of place to point out the BMW hit-and-run case where the media uncovered a slimy conspiracy between the prosecution and the defence to help the accused. If we were to go by what the court now solicits, such stories in public intrest will never see the light of the day. Possibly there will be no more stories on witnesses being influenced by powerful culprits. They will never be reported and all will be well as the courts will close their eyes to such instances.
The point being made here, My Lords, is that existing laws are enough to deal with such transgressions by the media. Having a blanket ban on such matters would cause more harm to democracy than otherwise. I plead that there are self-regulatory guidliness that media has and they are sufficient. Instead, clubbing the media as a class and putting them in the dock will not help matters.
Media all along has been the eyes and ears of the public and been the source of information for everybody.
My Lords, in ADM Jabalpur case, 5 wise men of this august institution let down the country at a critical juncture in the country's history during the emergency. Let history not repeat itself.