The Rajasthan government Thursday pleaded before the Supreme Court for restraining the media from reporting on matters related to police probes in criminal cases for protecting the rights of the accused.
The state government told the constitution bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice R.P. Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar that the trial courts had the inherent powers to restrict media reporting on cases during the police investigation stage.
The court was hearing an application by Sahara India Real Estate Corp voicing its grievance over a news channel reporting its proposal made to the Securities and Exchange Board of India on securing the money it mopped up from the market.
The court earlier said that it would frame guidelines for reporting on sub-judice matters.
“The right to fair trial would encompass the right to fair investigation without any influence,” the stage government’s counsel Manish Singhvi told the court.
Singhvi said that the right to fair investigation was an integral part of the administration of justice and as a concomitant right of the right to fair trial.
The investigation cannot be impaired or jeopardised by any person including the reporters. A news report which has the potential to affect the fair investigation would be treated as infraction of Article 21 of constitution, he said.
Singhvi told the court that an accused while seeking bail can not have access to the case diary but he gets to know about the contents of the case diary from media reports.
Something that an accused cannot directly access from police under the rules reaches him through media reports, he said.
Singhvi’s argument that the trial courts in criminal cases had the inherent powers to impose restrictions on the media did not find favour with the bench which said that under the code of criminal procedure these inherent powers were vested in the high court.
Senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) had to be balanced with the right to free and fair trial under Article 21 of the constitution of India.
“You can’t construe 19(1)(a) so wide in order to destroy the other person’s right under Article 21,” Salve told the court.
Appearing for telecom firm Vodafone, he said that nobody was going to restrict fair and accurate reporting but where larger public interest was concerned injunctions could be issued against reporting by media.
The court said that Canadian courts have held that if there was material on record to show that trial was being hijacked or the right of an accused was prejudiced by media reporting, the court could restrict the media by taking recourse to the common law.
The court wanted to know could it not be done merely because we in India have contempt of court powers.