A constitution Bench of the Supreme Court was told that neither can journalism be left to the whims of the judiciary nor can a judge stop the media from reporting a court case merely because he is embarrassed with the news report.
These observations were made by senior advocates invited to assist the five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia frame guidelines for reporting of cases in the media.
One of them,senior advocate Fali S Nariman,suggested to the Bench that the best way would be to pull up the reporter for misrepresentation on a case-by-case basis,but not sit down to frame general guidelines which may in effect curb the freedom of press. We cannot build a wall around ourselves, Nariman said.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan asked the court how it intends to enforce the guidelines,if formed,in a society where everybody is a journalist.
Speaking for the Bench,Chief Justice Kapadia said the court was not meant as an adversarial exercise and the judiciary was not trying to control content in a news story,but the guidelines,if framed,were meant to prevent misreporting which affects administration of justice and the rights of the accused. If we are misrepresented,arguments are misrepresented,cant we do anything about it. We have 11 complaints,all from senior advocates. We are misquoted day in and day out… cant we do anything about it? he asked.
Nariman replied that self-restraint is applicable to the judge and the lawyer as much as to the media. A high court judge says in court that 97 per cent of the people in the country are fools. The media reports it. All sorts of judges say all sorts of things,all sorts of lawyers say all sorts of things… we cannot build a wall around ourselves… there should be self-restraint on lawyers and judges as well not to say just about anything in court, Nariman submitted before the Bench also comprising Justices D K Jain,S S Nijjar,J S Khehar and Ranjana Prakash Desai.
I have this grave apprehension… I dont want the freedom of press to go, he underlined his point on the first day of the court hearing,which he said should be held as an exalted seminar and not litigious proceedings.
Nariman was himself aggrieved when a confidential communication detailing valuation of assets of Sahara House,of which he is lawyer in an ongoing litigation in the SC,was leaked to a news channel,which aired it a day before a scheduled hearing of the case. His written complaint is one of the catalysts for setting up the Bench.
Senior advocate Soli Sorabjee said he believed that mere embarrassment to the counsel or judge is not good enough a reason to stop the media from reporting a case.
Can we issue an injunction on reporting which affects the assets of a corporate house or a company? Look at the recent news on the CAG report… the report was yet to be submitted in Parliament. The news item may be right or wrong,but the whole economy has already suffered. We are giving an illustrative example of how a news item has affected an institution, the Bench said.
It stressed that the right to life and dignity of an accused is as important as the freedom of speech of the media.
Attorney General GE Vahanvati,also asked to assist the court,apprised the Bench that media does have self-regulation. Journalists do not operate in vacuum. They have editors. If they feel that something has gone wrong,they act. That by itself is a check, the AG submitted.