Fair trial and fair reporting
The Supreme Court on Tuesday said in a ruling that a person can move the high court or the apex court seeking injunction, even if temporary, against the media if he is apprehensive that reporting of the legal proceedings in the media could ‘prejudice his right to fair trial or interfere with the dispensation’. This ruling seeks to do two things at a time. On the one hand, it does safeguard free speech on part of the petitioner as well as the media, by making it a choice on part of a petitioner to move court in case he/she feels that media reporting could harm his case. At the same time it has shown its confidence in the media and has hinted at a degree of self-regulation that the media can impose upon themselves. Clearly the court is in no mood to tell the media what to report and what not to. However, it has reserved its right to ensure fair trial in a case if media comes in the way.
This is a good sign and a healthy one for a democracy in which none of its apparatus thinks too highly of its powers to impose itself upon the other. So the media should continue legal reporting and know the limits of its own conduct. That is what the court wants out of it. At the same time, the apex court is only too aware that sometimes the media can go overboard in reporting cases, especially when the cases have generated a degree of public interest. If it so happens that the defendant in a case feels that his/her right to fair trial could be jeopardised by biased reporting in the media, the court has now kept the door open to enquire against the same. Some of India’s democratic credentials are strong while in the case of others, as in most countries, democracy is a work in progress. Mass media, especially television, is a young device for communication/reportage in India. It cannot be doubted that the proliferation of the media that has taken place has happened almost simultaneously of it having come-of-age. As a result, there is the threat of sensationalism to increase eyeballs, an accusation that most media houses may contest but perhaps not deny.
The Supreme Court will interfere only to the extent the media fails to respect its own rules and to that end, this ruling is worth appreciating. The apex court must ensure that such a ruling need not come in the way of fair reporting which is as necessary as a fair trial. Only this will mean that we have achieved a few brownie points that we could hoard against our pride of being a successful democracy.