The Supreme Court is not empowered to frame guidelines on media reporting of cases and anyone fearing denial of a fair trial due to news coverage of the proceedings could move a petition to seek preventive relief, a senior lawyer contended Tuesday.
Senior counsel Rajiv Dhawan was appearing for the Editors Guild of India. The court was holding a hearing on framing guidelines for reporting of sub-judice matters, particularly criminal matters, on an application by the Sahara India Real Estate Corp.
Dhawan told the apex court’s 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 court is “entitled to grant” preventive relief to a petitioner who was afraid of being denied a fair trial.
He told the court that “there is no sensational judicial answer to sensational reporting. There is just sober answer to sensational reporting”.
“Press will be sensational. They are bound to be sensational. If bodies are dug out will they wait for six months before reporting it,” asked Dhawan, adding that with the passage of time, news lost its value.
“It should be borne in mind that free speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution is a preferred right and pre-censorship is constitutionally frowned upon,” said Dhawan.
“Free speech and expression can only be infringed upon by a law which constitutes a reasonable restriction founded on the principle of proportionality,” he said.
As Dhawan told the court it was a strange case which was bereft of facts, Chief Justice Kapadia told him that he could be provided with 13 petition wherein pleas had been made seeking that so and so lawyers should not appear in a case.
The court asked the senior counsel if media could analyse the evidence before the court did so.
“Can you analyse the evidence and material even before the court had evaluated it or even seen it? Petitions are moved asking so and so senior counsel should not be allowed to appear in the case and this was being done only because some lawyers wanted publicity,” Kapadia said.
Favouring guidelines, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, who is assisting the court in the matter, told the court that “laying down such guidelines would, not result in penal consequences”.
“On the other hand, it would be an exercise in the interest of the press and the electronic media themselves, and would mitigate or render the media less vulnerable than a situation in which the media required to interpret these phrases for themselves.”
Venugopal told the court that “the framework of these guidelines would be well within the inherent powers of the Supreme Court under Article 142 of the constitution.”
He said courts would not directly penalise the violation of these guidelines but they would replicate powers exercised by the courts in defamation cases.
The hearing would resume April 10.