ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Supreme Court's Decision on Reporting of Proceedings

The media should not see the Supreme Court's recent decision on reporting of judicial proceedings as a staggering overreaction by the judiciary. It should instead build on the clarity that the Court has brought to the issue and cast itself as a participant in - rather than a victim of - orders aimed at striking a balance between the freedom of the press and the right of a litigant to a fair trial.

The Supreme Court of India has delivered its much-awaited (with some trepidation in media circles) judgment in what has been colloquially referred to as the “media guidelines” matter. It will come as a relief to the members of the Fourth Estate that this characterisation has proven to be something of a misnomer since the Court expressly declined to frame guidelines that would apply “across the board” and regulate media reportage of judicial proceedings. However, there is likely to be some concern among media professionals about the “postponement order” that the constitution bench held can be passed by the Supreme Court or high courts in specific cases. Such an order would allow, on application by an affected party, “postponement of the offending publication/broadcast or postponement of reporting of certain phases of the trial (including identity of the victim or the witness or the complainant)”.

Seen in isolation, the recognition by the apex court of such a cause of action is an alarming proposition and may even be regarded by those in the media and outside as a staggering overreaction by the judiciary to instances of “trial by media” by 24×7 news channels. This possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand and a nuanced discussion of this issue must enjoy full play in television studios and newspaper editorials. Much will doubtless be written and said about the need for the Court to engage in what is admittedly still a fairly broad-brush exercise. Legitimate concerns will be raised about the arguable drift away from a default constitutional position of invali­dity of “prior restraints” on publication/broad­cast towards a focus on protecting against perceived threats to the sanctity of o­n-going trials. We should certainly be concerned about the possible “chilling e­ffect” of the decision on media reporting of court proceedings.

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