WRITING A separate but concurring judgment in the Rafale matter, Supreme Court judge Justice K M Joseph on Wednesday lamented that “in some sections” of the media, “there appears to be a disturbing trend of bias”.
Underlining the importance of freedom of press, he wrote, “If freedom is enjoyed by the Press without a deep sense of responsibility, it can weaken democracy. In some sections, there appears to be a disturbing trend of bias. Controlling business interests and political allegiances appear to erode the duty of dispassionate and impartial purveying of information.”
The judgment said the “press in India has greatly contributed to the strengthening of democracy in the country” and “will have a pivotal role to play for the continued existence of a vibrant democracy in the country”.
“…The visual media in particular wields power”, it said adding “reach… appears to be limitless” and “no segment of the population is impervious to its influence”.
“It must realise that its consumers are entitled to demand that the stream of information that flows from it, must remain unpolluted by considerations other than truth,” Justice Joseph wrote. “I would think that freedom involves many elements. A free person must be fearless. Fear can be of losing all or any of the things that is held dear by the journalist. A free man cannot be biased. Bias comes in many forms. Bias if it is established as per the principles which are applicable is sufficient to vitiate the decisions of public authorities. The rule against bias is an important axiom to be observed by Judges.”
The judgment said “equally the Press including the visual media cannot be biased and yet be free.”
“Bias”, it explained, “ordinarily implies a pre-disposition towards ideas or persons, both expressions to be comprehended in the broadest terms” and “may stem from personal, political or financial considerations”.
“Transmitting biased information, betrays absence of true freedom. It is, in fact, a wholly unjustifiable onslaught on the vital right of the people to truthful information under Article 19(1)(a) which, in turn, is the bedrock of many other rights of the citizens also,” the judge wrote adding that “in fact, the right of the Press in India is no higher than the right of the citizens under Article 19(1)(a)and is traced to the same provision”.
“The ability of truth to be recognised by a discerning public in the supposedly free market place of ideas forms much of the basis for the grant of the unquestionable freedom to the Press including the Media Houses,” he wrote.