Media And Courts (Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971)
The existence of free and fearless media in a democratic society is eminent.
Media not only provides information but also acts as a catalyst in forming
opinion of millions of people, thereby, educating the citizens about the
happening around the globe. free media is a result of fundamental right of
freedom of speech and expression.
The media is expected to work within the framework of the constitution and the
other rules and regulations laid down by the Press Council of India. To keep a
check on the misuse by it on the freedom provided to it, an independent
judiciary is necessary. The working of both judiciary and media in harmony are
important for the working of the democracy and for ensuring maximum justice.
However, often when the media tries to interfere with the administration of
justice, the judiciary using its powers guaranteed by constitution, imposes
reasonable restrictions on media's freedom of speech and expression as specified
in Article 19(2) of constitution.
One such reasonable restriction specifies is contempt of court. Contempt of
court is a medium through which the judiciary upholds it dignity. This
limitation ensures that no outside force can intrude into the course of justice.
Apart from Article 19(2), 129(2) and 215(3) of the constitution protect the
contempt of court proceedings.
Contempt Of Court Act, 1971:
The first legislation was the Contempt of Court Act, 1926 which after several
amendments is Contempt of Court Act, 1971. Being courts of record, the supreme
court and high court have inherent power to take proceedings under contempt of
Sec.2(b) and (c) of the said Act define civil and criminal contempt
respectively. Civil Contempt is the disobedience of the orders of court.
Criminal Contempt refers to any publication which scandalizes the court,
prejudices the proceedings, interferes with administration of justice.
The publication which fail to fulfil the condition mentioned in
section 3 would not lead to contempt of courts as section 3 protects an
individual from contempt proceedings if done in ignorance of a pending suit.
The defence available to contempt proceedings are mentioned in section
4 and 5. It is to be noted that it wont amount to contempt of court when the
publication is not made during the pendency of the suit. Furthermore, the
question of pendency would not occur when the contempt is relating to
sec.2(c)(i) i.e. scandalizing any court.
Interference By Media:
The reason behind initiating contempt proceedings is not to restrict freedom of
speech and expression but to stop disruption of justice. Sometimes due to over
enthusiasm media tends to cross the limits by vigilant reporting in matters
which are subjudice. This results in media trials, wrong public opinion, giving
away of misinformation. The important aspect of public faith in the justice of
the country gets affected.
Sometimes extensive coverage during trial can violate a person's right to free
trial. Right to free trial essentially means a trial without any extra pressure.
IN kathua gang rape case, which happened in January 2018, some media houses
revealed the identity of the minor victim. The Delhi Court took suo motu cognizance
and ordered those media houses to deposit Rs 10 lakhs as penalty.
Sec. 23 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, and sec 228A makes
revealing the identity of rape victim a punishable offence.
Another example which is of relevance here is of the accused of 26/11 Mumbai
Terrorist Attack. The media channels even before the final judgement held
debates and declared by itself that the accused will be hanged till death. Such
acts of media lowers the importance of the courts in the eyes of the people.
It is thus important for the courts to use contempt of court proceedings as a
shield against the interfering acts of media to avoid violation of the accused
and victim's rights to free trial and any serious risk of prejudice.
In the case of R.K.Anand v. Registrar, Delhi High Court, the supreme court
stated that a report relating to a sub judice matter can be published only after
the prior consent of the courts or it would amount to consequences. It also
stated that due to provoking publication by media, regardless of the result, the
public will hold the accused guilty.
Fair And Accurate Report:
According to sec.4 of the act, there can be no contempt of court proceedings
against the media when the publication of the report of judicial proceedings is
fair and accurate, subject to sec.7.
Sec.5 allows a fair criticism of any case which has been heard and decided. The
reason behind inclusion of fair criticism is that justice should be seen to be
done and should be open to scrutiny.
In the landmark case of Ram Dayal v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the supreme court
laid the test to judge whether a particular publication is fair and reasonable.
It stated that if the criticism is likely to hinder the administration of
justice or threaten the offence of public in the court of justice; the criticism
shall not be considered on fair and accurate.
In the most recent case of Prashant Bhushan and Another, The supreme court
initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against Advocate Prashant
Bhushan and Twitter India, on the basis of two tweets posted by Bhushan on the
social media platform.
On 29june 2020, he published a tweet about Chief Justice Of India,
accompanied by a picture of CJI Bobde on a motorcycle. On 2 July, Mehak
Maheshwari filed a petition against him requesting the court to initiate
contempt proceedings for the tweet, alleging that:
It inspired a feeling of
no-confidence in the independence of the judiciary and amounted to scandalizing the court.
The court fined Bhushan INR 1. He was required to pay this before 15
September 2020. Further, in the event of non-compilance Bhushan would be
punished with 3 months imprisonment and debarred from practising law for 3
years. He ultimately paid the fine before the given deadline.
In January 2021, The supreme court observed that criticism of courts if "growing
and everybody is now doing it" while giving three weeks to Cartoonist Rachita
Taneja, to file her reply on the plea seeking contempt action for her alleged
scandalous tweets against judiciary.
The public can be a part of the democracy only when there is transparency in the
functioning of every pillar. Thus except for certain cases openness should be
the order of the day for the judiciary as its strength lies in the confidence of
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