Special Correspondent

Says trial by media can affect administration of justice

Kochi: A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Wednesday disapproved of the tendency among television channels to hold talk shows on the interim orders of the High Court and pending cases.

The Bench comprising Justice K. Balakrishnan Nair and Justice M.L. Joseph Francis made the observations while dropping a contempt of court proceeding initiated against Kerala Kaumudi for publishing a front-page editorial regarding the conduct of Justice K. Hema, who heard the bail application of the accused in the Sr. Abhaya murder case. The editorial was published on December 18, 2008.

The court pointed out that talk shows were held even on the merits of interim orders passed by the High Court. In some of the shows, the anchors pronounced their own final verdicts in cases. Such trial by media was sure to prejudice either the prosecution/plaintiff or the accused/defendants. Such programmes had the effect of interfering with the administration of justice and they would amount to contempt of court.

The court said the theory of our system of justice was that ‘the conclusion to be reached in cases will be induced only by evidence and the arguments in open court and not by outside influence.’ Such a cardinal right was being infringed upon by such talk shows.

To keep viewers glued to their programmes, channels broadcast such talk shows. But in the process, unknowingly, ‘the system of administration of justice is weakened and distorted.’

Even interference with the police investigation would amount to interference with due course of justice and amount to contempt of court, the court said.

While accepting an unconditional apology tendered by the daily, the court said that it did not think that the newspaper or the persons running it had the intention to scandalise the court and impair its efficacy in administering impartial justice.

Direction to DGP

A Bench comprising Chief Justice B.R. Bannurmath and Justice Kurian Joseph directed the Director General of Police (DGP) to take appropriate steps to ensure that law and order was maintained while television channels conducted open-air debates and discussions in connection with election coverage.

The directive came on a writ petition filed by Bobby John, a Kottayam-based lawyer.

He pointed out that a debate held in Kottayam on March 20 had ended in scuffles and clashes among the supporters of political parties. The channels were holding the show without intimating the police, the petitioner said.