Adopt responsible journalistic conduct while reporting court cases: Kerala HC to media

The Kerala High Court on Thursday asked the media to “adopt a code of responsible journalistic conduct” while reporting court cases as “unjustified comments and remarks”, often based on the oral remarks made by a judge during hearing, could harm the dignity and reputation of a litigant.

The suggestion from a bench of Justices A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Mohammed Nias C P came in view of the media attention received by the litigation related to the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary, to the post of Malayalam associate professor in Kannur University.

The bench said that “frighteningly frequent” are the occasions when an impugned decision in academic matters attracts media attention for some reason or the other.

In such circumstances, the court has to deal with the added distraction brought about through incessant newspaper/ channel discussions and overwhelming social media posts, it observed.

“It is for this reason that courts have time and again exhorted the print and electronic media to exercise restraint by deferring discussions on matters pending before the court so that the rule of law can be better served by avoiding an obstruction of the course of justice,” the bench said.

It said that the media cannot be unmindful of the harm that is caused to a litigant’s dignity and reputation through unjustified comments and remarks, often based on the oral remarks made by a judge during the hearing.

The bench said that even the Chief Justice of India had recently observed that not everything that is said by a judge during the course of interaction with lawyers in the court can be taken as revealing the judge’s views on the merits of the case.

The bench further said that the right to privacy of an individual also includes the right to protection of one’s reputation from arbitrary State action, as well as the actions of other private citizens, including the press or media.

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“We trust, therefore, that the media will take note of these observations and adopt a code of responsible journalistic conduct that will inform news reporting in the days to come,” it said.

The high court allowed Varghese’ appeal against a single judge order of November last year that said she lacked the relevant period of actual teaching experience as stipulated under the University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations of 2018 for the post.

The bench set aside the single judge’s decision and held she had the relevant experience for the post and her candidature for that position be considered accordingly.

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