Justice P.B. Sawant
Justice P.B. Sawant, former Judge, Supreme Court of India, giving his opinion about media coverage of an ongoing court case, made it very clear, " So long you cover the ongoing proceedings of the court as matter of fact position, it will be your fundamental right to report but the moment you give your opinion on the case, you are exceeding the limit and you are interfering the proceedings of the court. We have already laid down the ethical guidelines which are available with the Press Council of India. These guidelines are comprehensive enough unless some novel situation comes-up. "
Prof. (Dr.) S. Sivakumar
Professor (Dr.) S. Sivakumar, Director Incharge of The Indian Law Institute pointed out that there is no harm if the media is reporting the proceedings of the court but in case they incorporate commentary and quote experts, it will not be justified. Court proceedings may not be affected by this but the public perception and confidence in judiciary will be deterred and they may resort to gundas and mafia dons for redressal of their grievances.
Prof. Sivakumar recommends adequate legal qualifications/ knowledge for media persons reporting court matters. He also feels the need of sufficient Public Relations Officers in courts for guiding/ interacting with reporters. Sivakumar cited the example of Justice Pasayat who was Chairman of SC Legal Service Committee in 2008 and had carried out healthy interaction with journalists thereby creating awareness. Prof. Sivakumar pointed out that the conviction of an accused is projected by media with fanfare but the acquittal of the innocent person is not projected that way as the same carries no 'news value'.
Pankaj Vohra, Political Editor Hindustan Times
"Stick to the facts while reporting, you may interfere the proceedings of the court through your opinion", says Pankaj Vohra, Political Editor Hindustan Times. The electronic media in Jesica Lal, Priyadarshani and Arushi cases carried out media trials though opinions, objections and discussions on TV channels. There were candle light processions as well.
" When the trial court acquits an accused on the ground of insufficient evidence, the remedy lies with the appeal in the higher court and not the public trial. Who will decide as to who is guilty? Is it the court or someone else ? ", questions Pankaj Vohra. He also clarified that every accused is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.
Vohra also pointed out that the focus should be on merits of the case and not the irrelevant aspects. In SPS Rathore's case, when he was acquitted the focus of the media was on his ' smiling ' rather than the factors behind his acquittal. In Arushi case, when the domestic servants were taken by CBI to Bangalore for Narco-analysis tests, the focus was on tests, instead of ascertaining whether the CBI followed the due process of law for carrying out the test or not ?
Pankaj Vohra suggests that the legal reporter should be well equipped with the knowledge of law and the media houses being matured institutions must maintain self control. The guidelines if at all required can only be framed in matters pertaining to National Security. Vohra cited the example of Allahabad High Court's banning news on troops movement which was in national interest.
R.N. Vats, noted Advocate and President, Delhi Bar Association lamented the role of media in certain cases coming for trial before the court. At times they hype the matter which disturbs the proceedings. They have fair right to comment on judgments, but commenting during the trial vitiates the very purpose of justice. "After all, judges too are human beings and they get distracted when they read the comments on the cases they are hearing. There should be certain guideline without clipping the freedom of press, but the guidelines should be framed by the government and not by the court ", feels R.N. Vats.
Manoj Verma, President, Delhi Journalists Association
Manoj Verma, President, Delhi Journalists Association, affiliated to National Union of Journalists says that judiciary has got its own legal process, hence it should be the reporting of the matter only and no comments whatsoever by media are justified. Our write-up should not deter the case and the matter should not be blown out of proportion. There should be no media trial. Our duty is to convey the facts to the people and nothing else. Court reporting is not based on sources, hence it should be factual thereby taking utmost care of the dignity of the Hon'ble court. However, media should not be deprived of their right of reporting.
Suman Jyoti Khaitan
Weighing before saying his words, noted Advocate and Chairman ASSOCHAM & PHD Chamber's Legal Committees, Suman Jyoti Khaitan said that media reporting has to be a 'balancing act' act. He emphasised that the freedom of press is of paramount importance. Media has to its credit many achievements and contributions for the good of the society. It has helped in exposing the corruption, scams, tainted politicians and other evils. If they are barred, the corrupt politicians will have the last laugh.
Similarly, the independence and dignity of the court is most important. The court go by evidence and facts of the case, however, witnesses may get influenced through irresponsible reporting. Khaitan suggested the formation of ' Peers Committees ' for self regulation. The news should not be sensitised for raising TRP. The news should be based on facts and not on speculations, apprehensions, comments and opinions. Media trial prior to pronouncement of court verdict also amounts to victimisation of the accused who might later on be acquitted.