Govt asks SC to issue balanced norms for media

Govt asks SC to issue balanced norms for media

AG lays stress on responsible reporting

The Centre has urged the Supreme Court to strike a balance between “freedom of expression” and “right to life and liberty,” in laying down guidelines for the media in reporting court proceedings.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati suggested the five-judge Constitution bench headed Chief Justice S H Kapadia to refer to the Canadian Judicial Journal before framing the guidelines.

“While it is undoubtedly true that the right of freedom of speech and expression of the press is sacrosanct, it is also equally true that improper reporting of court proceedings can, at times, severely affect and impede the process of administration of justice. The media is powerful; it is constructive, when it is responsible. When it is not, it is deadly and destructive. The difficulties arise from the fact that people believe what is stated in print.
A ‘clarification’ or a ‘denial’ cannot undo the damage,” he said. Accepting that the court should frame guidelines for the media in reporting sub judice matters, Vahanvati said there should be a balance between different principles of the Constitution. “Where there is a vacuum on account of any law or for the purposes of enforcement, the court should evolve new mechanisms to do complete justice and frame guidelines for guidance,” he said.

Competing principles

“An attempt of laying down guidelines for reporting has to take into account and balance two competing principles namely the right of free expression and to ensure that judicial proceedings are not prejudiced by improper reporting. The process of framing of guidelines has to strike a delicate balance between the aforesaid competing principles,” Vahanvati added. Last month, the apex court had decided to set up the Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Kapadia and justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana Prakash Desai and J S Khehar, following several instances of incorrect reporting on court proceedings. The bench had then asked the Attorney General and senior counsel Fali S Nariman and K K Venugopal to assist the court on the issue.

In his submission before the court, Vahanvati said “such guidelines will be a normative exercise without coercive procedures. There should be no attempt to comment on the contents of the pleadings. Comments on pleadings as being inadequate or insufficient, or not addressing the issues raised, is not a matter for a report but for the courts to decide.

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