“The observations are ‘momentary’ while what leaves its footprints on the sand of time is the written order by the judge…”
The power and significance of media in a democracy are well recognized. Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, which provides freedom of speech and expression includes within its scope, freedom of the press. The existence of a free, independent, and powerful media is the basis of democracy, especially in a highly diversified society like India. Media is not only a means to express feelings, opinions, and views, but it is also responsible for building opinions and views on various topics of regional, national, and international agenda. The central role of the media is its aptness to mobilize the thinking process of the general public. The Supreme Court of the United States has remarked very nicely on the importance of media as, “The hand that rules the press, the radio, the screen, and the far-spread magazine, rules the country”. However, there are always two sides to a coin. With the media’s expanded position and prominence, the importance of its transparency and professionalism in reporting cannot be overstated. No right to freedom, no matter how precious, can be considered absolute, unlimited, or unqualified in all circumstances in a democratic society. The freedom of the media, like any other freedom recognized under the Constitution, has to be exercised within reasonable boundaries. With great power comes great responsibility. Similarly, the freedom under Article 19(1) (a) is correlative with the duty not to violate any law.
Reporting of Courts by the Media:
Freedom of speech and expression expands to reporting the proceedings of Courts as well. Courts are entrusted to carry out crucial functions under the law. Their work has a direct effect, not only on the rights of citizens but also on the extent to which the citizens can exact accountability from the executive whose duty it is to enforce the law. Citizens are entitled to ensure that courts remain true to their remit to be a check on arbitrary exercises of power. The ability of citizens to do so bears a direct correlation to the seamless availability of information about what happens in a court during the course of proceedings. This principle was recognized in the Madrid Principles on the Relationship between the Media and Judicial Independence. The first principle is formulated thus: ―
“1. Freedom of expression (including freedom of the media) constitutes one of the essential foundations of every society which claims to be democratic. It is the function and right of the media to gather and convey information to the public and to comment on the administration of justice, including cases before, during and after trial, without violating the presumption of innocence.”
This principle is recognized within Indian jurisprudence, where the media has complete freedom to report on live litigation before the Courts, within certain limitations, keeping in mind that justice between parties is not derailed. Also, technology has shaped social, economic, and political structures beyond description. The world is adapting to technology at a rapid pace which is often hard to catalog, and many of our citizens are becoming digital natives from a young age. It is understandable that people will look towards modern or latest forms of media, such as social media websites and applications while consuming the news. This, understandably, would also include information reported about the functioning of courts. Hence, it would do no good to avoid the new forms of media from reporting on the court’s work. It was keeping this principle in mind that the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, in the context of the use of live text-based forms of communication (including Twitter) to report on court proceedings, noted thus (1): ―
“It is presumed that a representative of the media or a legal commentator using live, text-based communications from the court does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case. This is because the most obvious purpose of permitting the use of live, text-based communications would be to enable the media to produce fair and accurate reports of the proceedings. As such, a representative of the media or a legal commentator who wishes to use live, text-based communications from court may do so without making an application to the court.”
Further, the Apex Court has recently in the case of Chief Election Commissioner of India vs M.R. Vijaybhaskara & others (2) said that media cannot be stopped from reporting oral observations made by judges during the course of hearing as they are also “public interest”. The observations were made by the Supreme Court while hearing the Election Commission’s complaint about being “castigated without any evidence” by the Madras High Court on political rallies during the legislative assembly election in Tamil Nadu.(3)
Furthermore, the CJI NV Ramana, on 13.05.2021 launched a facility in the Supreme Court mobile app for providing links to virtual hearings to media persons. The CJI cited the role of media in democracy saying (4) that:-
“This access to the public is important, as the rulings of the Court of law, and more particularly the Supreme Court, have a bearing on the lives of people throughout this country. The role of the media assumes importance in the process of disseminating information.”
The oral remarks are not a part of the official court records, and therefore, the question of expunging them does not arise. It is trite to say that a formal opinion of a judicial institution is reflected through its judgments and not its oral observations during the hearing. Hence, in view of the above discussion, it is evidently clear that the media cannot be restrained from reporting on court proceedings. The reporting by the media is integral to the freedom of speech and expression of those who speak, of those who wish to hear and to be heard, and above all, in holding the judiciary accountable to the values which justify its existence as a constitutional institution.
- Practice Guidance: The Use of Live Text-Based Forms of Communication (Including Twitter) from Court for the Purposes of Fair and Accurate Reporting‘ available at: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Guidance/ltbc-guidance-dec-2011.pdf
- LL 2021 SC 244
- Media cannot be stopped from reporting oral observations: SC. Visit the link: https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/news/india/media-cannot-be-stopped-from-reporting-oral-observations-made-by-judges-during-course-of-hearingsc/articleshow/82367801.cms
- ‘Media Important In Disseminating Information’ : Supreme Court Launches Mobile Facility For Journalists To Attend Virtual Hearing. Visit the link: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-launches-mobile-facilityfor-journalists-to-attend-virtual-hearing-174078