Convinced that victim’s rights are often trampled upon by unbridled media coverage of criminal incidents and trial court proceedings, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stepped up the legal process to frame guidelines for reporting by media and press briefing by the police.
A bench of Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justice Rohinton F Nariman asserted that the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression that the media has must be balanced with the right to life, liberty and dignity of the victims, exposed to perils after unrestrained disclosure of information.
It has sought detailed responses from the Centre, states and Union Territories within six weeks on the regulatory mechanism, either existing or proposed, so that the bench could focus clearly on the areas where guidelines were required to be framed.
“Rights of media is on one side and rights of accused on the other. What about the rights of victims? What about the rights of media versus rights of victims? In the present scenario, only rights of media and accused are being ensured and not the rights of victims. There are several instances where rights of victims are ignored,” observed the bench.
On the submissions by advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appointed as amicus curiae in the matter, the bench said that the issue required a “holistic and comprehensive” view so that the different fundamental rights are reconciled.
The bench, hearing a PIL by NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said it would proceed with the matter once all the responses come.
The court pointed out that it would normally be for the Centre to put in place a policy or frame guidelines, but it was either “too lax” or stepped onto fundamental rights of one or the other entity involved.
The SC said the 2010 advisory issued by the Home Ministry to the states and UTs on the media briefing policy by the investigators was “too vague and general in nature” and failed to regulate the content that should not be passed on to the media in the interest of justice.
It also referred to the 2012 Constitution bench judgment in the Sahara case wherein the SC set forth a principle of “postponement of publication” in its bid to balance the rights of freedom of press and fair trial.