Why are media regulators soft with scribes, asks SC

The Supreme Court on Monday said media regulators tend to wear a “velvet fist inside a velvet glove” when it comes to dealing with journalists and media organisations whose actions, like revealing the identity of a rape survivor, make them criminally liable.

It is a crime under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Indian Penal Code to disclose the identity of victims of sexual abuse, especially if they are children.

The Supreme Court asked whether statutory bodies like the Press Council of India (PCI), Editors Guild of India, National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), and the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) have no responsibility to inform the police when a journalist or a media outlet commits such a crime in the course of reportage.

A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed orally that it was not enough on the part of these statutory and independent bodies, most of them headed by retired judges, to say they have “norms” to deal with errant journalists.

“This is like a velvet fist inside a velvet glove. It is of no use… If there is criminal liability involved, there should be prosecution launched under a penal statute,” Justice Lokur said categorically.

Though the oral observations from the Bench came during the hearing of a petition filed by Nivedita Jha highlighting the repeated violations seen in media while covering sensitive cases.

Advocate Madhavi Divan, appearing for a media body, said there were stringent norms of journalistic ethics and standards in place. Ms. Divan said an enquiry is held whenever there is a violation. She submitted that the grievance mechanism in place is “robust.”

“By all means you can proceed against the person. But when a criminal offence is involved, the person should be prosecuted under a penal statute…if you do not prosecute a person for doing something criminal, then why are you there at all?” Justice Lokur asked the media bodies.

Justice Gupta asked media bodies that “when the complainant is a child (who is a rape survivor and whose identity was revealed by the media), is it not your duty to inform the police? You should know because you are headed by retired judges… The offence comes under POCSO. Then, why should prosecution not be launched?”

Justice Lokur referred to an affidavit filed by NBSA to point out that not a single prosecution seemed to have been launched against any journalist in the past.

“There is a law which says that a person has to be prosecuted when there is a violation of law, but you have not prosecuted a single person. If you do not prosecute when a crime has been committed, you cannot claim to be robust. You may as well close down,” Justice Lokur told the media bodies.

The court gave three weeks to PCI, Editors Guild and IBF to respond specifically on whether they had a responsibility to inform the police about an offence committed by a journalist or a media organisation.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 7:56:12 PM |

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