The Indian Newspapers Society (INS) Wednesday told the Supreme Court that there was no need for any “further or fresh guidelines” on regulating media reporting on sub-judice matters and any violation of an accused’s right to free and fair trial by reporting could be addressed through the existing laws.
“There may not be a need for any further or fresh guidelines,” senior counsel Parag Tripathi, appearing for the INS, told the apex court 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.
Tripathi told the judges that the issue before the court involved four different and distinct rights.
These righs involved inter-play of the fundamental requirement of fair trial, the right of an accused to a fair trial, the citizens’ right to know at large and the freedom of speech, including the freedom of press under Article 19(1)(a).
Even though the right to free speech and expression were not absolute under all circumstances, Tripathi told the court that in the “trade-off” between the right to speech and expression and that of fair trial, the former would not be abridged.
“As far as the argument on economic loss or protection of economic interest of a party is concerned, it may be pointed out that in India, protection of economic rights is not a part of fundamental rights with the right of property having been expressly withdrawn from the ambit of Article 19(1),” Tripathi told the constitution bench.
Earlier concluding his arguments on behalf of the Broadcast Editors’ Association, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani said “this court is well advised not to frame guidelines” for regulating media reporting of the sub-judice matter.
Jethmalani said this in response to a query whether any guidelines could be framed by the court. He said that even the apex court had favoured self-regulatory mechanism for the professional bodies.
He told the court that the only remedy available in the event of derailment of justice on account of wrong media reporting or trial by media was taking recourse to the contempt of court route.
He referred to a plea by murder convict Manu Sharma, punished in the 1999 Delhi ramp model Jessica Lall’s murder, that it was the hype by media that resulted in the breach of free and fair trial in his case.
Chief Justice Kapadia asked “is the court in a case, as brought by you, not justified in passing deferment order to achieve the ends of justice and free and fair trial”.
As he wanted to know if there was no other way than to take recourse to contempt of court to punish them, Jethmalani said “enforce the law”.
Appearing for Vodafone, senior counsel Harish Salve said that he favoured enunciation of principles that would bring clarity on law in a very important area concerning Article 21 and Article 19(1)(a) of constitution. This he said would serve a great public purpose.
While batting for laying down the principles, Salve said: “I am reasonably certain that a responsible media will take on board what the court will say.”
“Why should we feel that media will defy what the court lays down. When it comes to interpretation of law, this court had the last word. You like it or not you have to live with it. This is the majesty of the court,” he said.
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.