As Supreme Court Wednesday explored the option of postponing the publication of court proceedings in sensitive matters, including criminal cases, it was told that news was a perishable commodity which lost its value, if banned.
“We are not banning but are invoking the doctrine of postponement. It is a question of the timing” of the reporting of court proceedings, Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia told counsel Anup Bhambhani who appeared for News Broadcasters Association (NBA).
While evaluating the option of postponing the publication of the court proceedings, the court indicated that it may frame guidelines as had been done in some specific cases.
The postponement of the publication of the ongoing court proceedings in a case would amount to ban for a certain period thereby rendering it useless, Bhambhani told the apex court’s constitutional bench of Chief Justice Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice R.P. Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar.
“News is a perishable commodity. If its publication is banned then it would lose its news value,” Bhambhani told the court adding that the “practical effect of what the court is contemplating would be something it had not even thought of”.
The court asked “can media analyse the evidence even before the court had done and prejudice the case of the accused facing trial”.
The judges said this on an application by the Sahara India Real Estate Corp agitating its grievance over a news channel reporting its proposal made to the Securities and Exchange Board of India on securing the money it had mopped up from the market.
On an application by Sahara, the court said it would frame guidelines for reporting of sub-judice matters.
Bhambhani said an accused facing trial in the 2G case could in future approach the court saying the media should be restrained from reporting the court proceedings in his case as it was affecting his business interest. “It (postponement) will open a Pandora’s box.”
He favoured putting in place guidelines as the broadcasters had already done for themselves under the stewardship of former chief justice J.S. Verma.
Senior counsel Fali Nariman, appearing for Sahara, told the court that under Article 19 of the constitution people had a right to know and the right to be informed.
He said that live telecast of parliament proceedings were the satisfaction of the right to know and the right to be informed.
Every citizen has a right to know what their elected representatives were doing in parliament even if they were staging a walkout, Nariman told the court, suggesting that the court proceedings could not be shielded from the people.
Addressing the courts option of postponement of publication of court proceedings, Nariman said that there could not be any preventive relief.
He said that courts were not empowered to make such guidelines nor was there any statutory empowerment for then to do so.
The court asked Nariman if he could suggest how to balance the freedom of press with the right of an accused facing trial.
The court said that in Canada they do have some law and Ireland has guidelines that restrain one-sided reporting that causes prejudice to the accused.