Eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan has told the Supreme Court that to ensure fair and accurate reporting, proceedings of the Supreme Court and of the high courts should be videographed and made publicly available, as is done for parliament.
“In order to avoid inaccurate or one-sided reporting” Bhushan told the apex court constitution bench to direct that all its proceedings and of the high courts “shall be video-graphed and made publicly available, just as it is done in the case of parliament”.
Bhushan, who appeared for a group of journalists, told this to the constitution bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar. He said this in his written submission in the hearing of an application by Sahara India Real Estate Corp agitating its grievance of a news channel reporting its proposal made to SEBI on securing the money it had mopped up from the market.
On the application by Sahara India Real Estate Corp, the court had said it would frame guidelines for reporting of the sub-judice matter.
Responding to the court’s suggestion on postponement of publication of news reports of the sub-judice matter, Bhushan told the court: “The concept of ‘postponement’ or ‘timing’ has no basis in law and would gravely violate the citizens’ democratic and fundamental rights (to know guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution).”
This would mean shutting out the media reporting of a case till it reached finality – a restriction that would extend to years if not decades.
Conceding that media publicity could in certain cases put pressure on judges, though they are not supposed to be susceptible, and thus effect their free judgment, Bhushan said that yet there are many more occasions where “the media exposure of unfair prosecution of accused or collusion between influential accused, police and the courts has led to justice than the cases where media trials have led to injustice.”
Pointing out that the court could not instil “a sense of fair, objective or good reporting” by a judicial order, Bhushan said that if guidelines were to come eventually then they should be crafted in such a way so that the high and mighty accused may not use “local courts to gag the media to prevent the exposure of collusion between the accused, police and occasionally with the judiciary as well”.
The court by trying to decide how media should report was setting a precedent by which other institutions like parliament, government, departments, CBI, police, NHRC would frame their rules as to how they should be accessed and covered by the media. “Such a course would obviously be a set back to the democratic rights of the media and public at large,” Bhushan said in his submission last week.
Holding that the apex court has consistently frowned upon any attempt at pre-censorship and has zealously guarded the freedom of the press, Bhushan said that in the past it had negated several efforts by the executive and the legislature to muzzle the press.
Referring to an earlier pronouncement of the apex court wherein it has said “as long as this Court sits, newspapermen need not have the fear of their freedom being curtailed by unconstitutional means”, Bhushan said that it would be “doubly unfortunate if this Court itself starts making unnecessary restrictions on media. Such a situation would also leave no recourse to those affected by the ruling.”