New Delhi: Paid news, the right to information and analytical comment on the facts of a case that is yet to be heard were the topics of debate before the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench on media reporting subjudice matters on Thursday.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.H. Kapadia, heading the five-judge bench, asked what various industry bodies set up for self regulation within the media had done about the malaise of paid editorial content, which afflicts several news outlets across India.
Kapadia asked what a court must do if it finds evidence of paid news in an ongoing case.
Senior counsel Anil Divan, who appeared for The Hindu newspaper, did not address the query on paid news, but reiterated to the court that it did not have the power under the constitution to make any enforceable or punitive guidelines.
The court also expressed its displeasure at frivolous applications under the Right to Information Act. Kapadia said that he had made several disclosures under the RTI Act after he took over as CJI, but that he was unhappy about the extent to which queries were probing in some applications.
“Even in the RTI matter, after I took over, I have made many disclosures. But it is going beyond," he said. “I want this institution to be saved also. Everything can’t be according to the institution of the press."
Kapadia said the number of RTI applications was affecting the working of the court. “Everyday, I am not able to do constructive work. All the time is spent answering queries: Which lawyer came to invite you for that function? When did you leave Bombay? Why did you go for Nani Palkivala lecture? There is a limit to all this. I am making these statements because you (Anil Divan) and Mr. (Fali) Nariman are here. People should know what is going on."
The court then turned its attention to public comment on issues that were about to be taken up by the court, using the example of an op-ed article on the 2G presidential reference that appeared in The Hindu on Thursday.
The union government’s presidential reference on the 2 February 2G spectrum judgement was filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday. The union council of ministers approved the reference on Tuesday.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu, tried to explain to the court that there would be incredible disservice done to the public if the press wasn’t allowed to discuss anything that was about to come before a court. “Just consider the effect of having such a law," said Bhushan to the bench.
But Kapadia asked if this didn’t amount to prejudging the issue.
“If a litigation is to come to court and you prejudge the issue—as a lie, as a truth, whatever—whether such factors could be considered as interfering with the administration of justice? It is integrally connected to the matter which is to come to court," responded Kapadia.