[READ JUDGMENT] Kerala HC dismisses PIL calling for rules to restrict media trials

The Kerala High Court has dismissed a Public Interest Litigation petition seeking to frame guidelines to restrict the media from conducting media trial in matters of public interest. The court observed that framing of guidelines for regulating the press is not possible.

The court also rejected the plea to initiate contempt of court proceedings and action other prevailing laws to restrain mass media from conducting media trial in matters of public interest.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly issued the order on the petition filed by KS Halvi of Cherthala in  Alappuzha district (WP(C).No.16349 OF 2020) alleging that scathing attacks are made by the media by acting themselves as judges, overriding the official justice delivery system, and thereby interfering with the right to a fair trial of an accused in criminal cases.

The petitioner alleged that the media houses are proclaiming the names of the persons not even named in the FIR and stories are being planted to create suspicion in the minds of the public at large.

The petitioner also alleged that the media sensationalised the gold smuggling case without any basis. The media reported that former IT Secretary M Sivasankar, who was removed from the post of Chief Minister’s
Principal Secretary, was the link between Swapna Suresh and the Kerala government and that Sivasankar appointed Swapna Suresh as Operations Manager at the Space Park after she left the UAE Consulate. 

Citing a Supreme Court Judgment in the case of Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Limited and others vs SEBI [( 2012) 10 SCC 603], the court pointed that though freedom of the press is not explicitly guaranteed as a fundamental right, it is implicit in the freedom of speech and expression and that freedom of the press has always been a cherished right in all democratic countries.

Media has been rightly described as the Fourth Estate, though it is not immune from the general law of land including civil and criminal liability for libel and defamation.

The Court observed

“On analysing the observations and the findings rendered by the Apex Court, it is clear that the press enjoys only the freedom like any other citizens, in terms of the guarantee extended under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. No doubt, the press has got the liberty and the freedom for fair and honest news reporting. However, it is discernible from the words of wisdom rendered by the Apex Court that freedom guaranteed to the press under Article 19(1)(a) cannot be misused and the press has the duty to ensure that reports are made truly and fairly so as not to interfere with the freedom enjoyed by the citizens in any manner,”

“We have no hesitation to hold that a public interest litigation to frame guidelines to restrict the media on the basis of the allegations made in the petition cannot be entertained and no guidelines can be framed taking into account the contentions put forth by the petitioner. The judgements rendered by the Apex Court would make it clear that the media can be restricted by the courts on a case to case basis,”

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