Context:

the Election Commission of India (ECI) complained against the Madras High Court’s observation that the ECI was singularly responsible for the rise in Covid-19 cases.

The media cannot be stopped from reporting any court hearing, the Supreme Court said.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Statutory Bodies, Fundamental Rights, Judgements & Cases, Government Policies & Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Freedom of Press in India
  2. Status of Freedom of Press
  3. About the ECI tussle with reporting HC comments
  4. About the Supreme Court Judgement

Freedom of Press in India

  • Article 19, said to be the foundation of Democratic rule in India, guarantees freedom of speech and expression to Indian citizens only.
  • These freedoms are not absolute and they can all be curtailed by imposing some reasonable restriction.
  • Reasonable restrictions can be imposed (imposed only on the grounds mentioned in the constitution) only by authority of law and NOT by executive action alone.

Freedom of Speech and Expression actually covers:

  1. Right to Information
  2. Freedom of press
  3. Right to privacy
  4. Right to hoist the national flag
  5. Right to demonstration or picketing, but not right to strike
  6. Rights to Not Speak

Status of Freedom of Press

  • Unlike several countries such as USA, there is no separate provision guaranteeing the freedom of press, but the Supreme Court in Sakaal paper vs. Union of India case, has held that the freedom of press is included in the “freedom of expression” under Article 19(1) (a).
  • In Brij Bhushan case, SC clarified that there is no prior censorship on the media, i.e., no prior permission is needed.
  • 44th amendment, 1976 introduced Article 361A that provides protection to a person publishing proceeding of the Parliament and State Legislatures.

In the Indian Express case, it was clarified that the Freedom of Press includes:

  1. Right to Information
  2. Right to Publish
  3. Right to Circulate
  • In 1997, the Prasar Bharti Act grants autonomy to Doordarshan and All India Radio (which means it can criticize the state policies and actions).
  • In 1966, Press Council of India was created to regulate the print media.
  • The National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution (NCRWC) recommended that Freedom of Press be explicitly granted and not be left implied in the Freedom of Speech.

About the ECI tussle with reporting HC comments

  • Recently, the Madras HC judges had accused the ECI of being solely responsible for the super-spread of COVID infection through uncontrolled election rallies, campaigning, etc.
  • The HC judges had even said the ECI should be charged with “murder”.
  • Soon after, a troubled ECI had approached the HC to take back its words and restrain the media from reporting the comments as FIRs for murder were registered against the poll body officials.
  • The Madras HC said that it cannot expect the media not to report dialogues and that Oral observations are as important as orders.
  • Following this the ECI had complained to the Supreme Court about the oral comments made by the Division Bench of the Madras High Court.

About the Supreme Court Judgement

  • The Supreme agreed with the Madras High Court on the matter of media reporting and said: Media cannot be stopped from reporting oral remarks made by judges during a court hearing.
  • The SC bench also described the “media as a powerful watchdog”.
  • Public interest is not limited to judgments, but also the raising of questions in a court hearing, the dialogue between the Bar and the Bench. All of these show the public whether there was a genuine application of mind by judges.
  • However, the SC consoled and said the comments were not to belittle the ECI because ultimately democracy survives on the faith in the institutions.
  • The bench pacified the ECI saying the apex court would write a “balanced order”.

-Source: The Hindu

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