The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was open to “recommending” to Parliament for its approval the suggestions before it for framing media guidelines for court coverage after it was contended that “restriction” to press freedom can only be imposed by parliamentary statute.
“We have been requesting senior advocates for suggestions. You give us suggestions we will recommend the suggestions to Parliament if you think so,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia said when senior advocate Ram Jethmalani was submitting that “restriction to press freedom can only be imposed by parliamentary statute”.
The remarks of the bench came against the backdrop of Mr. Jethmalani’s argument that the need of the hour was that lawyers, judges and editors should discuss among themselves evolving some guidelines and recommend them to Parliament for its approval.
“There will be no need of any self-regulation or guidelines. But for achieving the desired result you have to reach Parliament and Parliament will respect you. You have to persuade Parliament to pass it,” Mr. Jethmalani submitted before the bench, also comprising justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana Prakash Desai and J S Khehar.
At this point, the bench said there were recommendations by the Law Commission on the issue and submissions have also been made about self-regulations and various in-house guidelines but they are not implemented.
However, the senior advocate replied “those guidelines are not to restrict the freedom of speech” and for implementation of the Law Commission’s recommendations it was for politicians to take a call.
Mr. Jethmalani, who was appearing for Broadcast Editors’ Association, said there would be no need for any guideline if the contempt law was enforced effectively.
“You don’t have to worry for any guideline if law of contempt was enforced effectively. That is much more effective than any guidelines,” he said.
Further, the noted jurist cautioned that populist approach should not be adopted by law officers and judges.
“The Attorney General and judges should avoid populist steps to get praise from press,” Mr. Jethmalani said and added that the court should take such things seriously and “send couple of people to jail”.
The reference to Attorney General was made as Jethmalani was explaining how the Contempt of Court law is applied.
He submitted that since the Attorney General is the guardian of the Contempt law, his opinion was important on the initiation of the contempt law.
“In principle, the Attorney General is a counsel of people and not of government,” he said.
Before the association of TV editors made its submission, advocate Madhvi Goradia Divan, appearing for ‘The Statesman’ daily, opposed the suggestion for any restriction including temporary ban on publication of court proceedings, saying there was no statutory basis for such ban.
“There are list of statutory exceptions and there are inherent powers for courts and judges to apply those,” she said, adding that “anything which dilutes open justice system will not be proper.”
While Madhvi was making the submission, the bench clarified that it was not deliberating for punishing media but was making an attempt to avoid the situation like a contempt of court cropping up.
“Our effort is not to punish for contempt. It will be disastrous to punish. We want to avoid those situation so that things don’t get aggravated. The endeavour is to prevent coming to a situation like contempt. Thus can there be a postponement for certain period,” the bench said.
She, however, said there was a need for better initiative by way of collaboration involving media and judiciary to educate people about the intricacies connected with court proceedings.
The advocate said even the media works under various facets of society and that it is not uncommon for police, lawyers, doctors and people of other professions holding press conferences asking media to emphasis particular aspects in news reports.