The Supreme Court on Tuesday set forth a principle of postponement of publication in its bid to balance the rights of freedom of press and fair trial. Mapping out a Lakshman Rekha for the media on judicial proceedings,it,however,stopped short of drawing it across the board.
As per the constitutional principle laid down by the court,an aggrieved party can move a high court or the Supreme Court seeking deferment of publication on a sub-judice matter. After going through the alleged offending publication and its effect,the court concerned can pass appropriate orders.
However,such guidelines on reporting cannot be framed across the board,a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said in its order in an open court.
What constitutes an offending publication would depend on the decision of the court on a case to case basis… such orders of postponement should be for short duration and without disturbing the content of the publication… it should be applied only in cases of real and substantial risk of prejudice to proper administration of justice or to the fairness of trial.
The order was passed on complaints alleging breach of confidentiality during the hearing of a dispute between Sahara Group and market regulator SEBI. Certain documents regarding the dispute had got leaked to the media.
The court said the media was free to challenge the postponement of publication orders in appropriate proceedings,adding that the orders were permissible under the inherent powers of the court and constituted reasonable restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
The bench further described the postponement orders as a neutralising device,not punitive but preventive,to be passed by a writ court if any other alternative remedy,such as change of venue or postponement of trial,failed to balance conflicting societal interests of right to know versus fair administration of justice.
It also said that postponement orders will protect the media from getting prosecuted or punished for committing contempt.