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Freedom Of Press And Court Of Proceedings

Before a Court passes a Judgment , during hearing , many things happens. Heated argument between the lawyers, remarks by Hon´┐Żble Judges, whether soft or harsh, are part and parcel of court hearing. There has been recent trend in Media to report what transpires in a court. We read Judgements pronounced by the Hon´┐Żble Judges and Court orders on daily basis. These days Legal Journalism has also seen rise as there are may legal platforms has been emerged. Court proceedings are getting reported on daily basis. Besides political and social news, legal news are also occupying substantial space in Newspaper.

Media has been considered as forth pillar of Democracy. Post Independence India, media has played crucial role in keeping the fabrics of Democracy intact. Balance between Legislative, Executive and Judiciary is as much sine qua non for democracy as freedom of press.

Indian Constitution has been framed in such a way by the makers of Indian Constitution, so that neither of the pillar can go astray. Often it has been seen that when ever Judiciary or executive try to over reach its domain, it is always checked by media. Media plays the role of a mirror in which image of country and system prevailing there in is reflected as it is. Idea is to keep the mirror intake and clear.

For keeping democracy alive, freedom of Media is must. But to what extent , is the issue? This issue has cropped up again in view of recent oral remark made my Division Bench of the High Court, comprising of Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on 26April2021 against the Election Commission.

The Hon'ble Division Bench , Madras High Court, while dealing with issue pertaining to wide spread of second wave of COVID pandemic in India , orally observed that the EC ( i.e. Election Commission) is the institution that is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19 and that the EC should be put up for murder charges.

Though this Oral observation made by the Hon'ble Division Bench , Madras High Court , was not forming part of any judicial order or judicial record. However this oral observation has widely been reported in media.

Based on the reporting of this oral remark in Print Media, On 27 April 2021, an individual filed a complaint, against Mr Sudip Jain, Deputy Election Commissioner and other officials of the EC under Sections 269, 270 and 304 read with Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in Khardah Police Station, Kolkata.

In such a situation , the Election Commissioner sought a order from the court that a media can report only what forms a part of the judicial record. It means that media could not report all the details of court proceeding, which occurs in a court., whether oral or otherwise.

This issue was taken to the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India vide Civil Appeal No. 1767 of 2021 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 6731 of 2021. Title of the case was The Chief Election Commissioner of India Vs M.R Vijayabhaskar & Ors. This issue was decided by Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Hon'ble Judge vide its Judgment dated 06.05.2021 passed therein.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India observed that oral remarks are not a part of the official judicial record, and therefore, the question of expunging them does not arise. It is trite to say that a formal opinion of a judicial institution is reflected through its judgments and orders, and not its oral observations during the hearing. Hence, in view of the above discussion, we find no substance in the prayer of the EC for restraining the media from reporting on court proceedings.

The Hon´┐Żble Apex Court further observed that this Court stands as a staunch proponent of the freedom of the media to report court proceedings. This we believe is integral to the freedom of speech and expression of those who speak, of those who wish to hear and to be heard and above all, in holding the judiciary accountable to the values which justify its existence as a constitutional institution.

This Judgment plays very important role in keeping the freedom of Media intact in reporting the court proceeding. Right of media to Report Court Proceeding: Sine qua non for a healthy Democracy. The media would be having right to report to report what all transpires during a court proceeding. Though the opinion of Court is always expressed through judicial orders. The reporting of media is merely considered as reporting of court preceding.

One should not put a mask on the mirror in order to hide scars on his face. Rather remedial measure is required to be taken to cure the scar. Of course media is the mirror in which errant behavior of system appears. Time is to correct to errant behavior , rather than declaring the mirror errant.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India further emphasized the need for judges to exercise caution in off-the-cuff remarks in open court, which may be susceptible to misinterpretation. This observation made in the said Judgment also highlighted the need of Hon'ble Judges to exercise restrain while making any oral observation. Any way this Judgement reiterates necessity of press freedom for a healthy democracy.

Written By: Ajay Amitabh Suman: Advocate , Hon'ble High Court Of Delhi

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