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Don't be party to curtailing press freedom: Shanti Bhushan

Delhi,Immigration/Law/Rights,Media, Tue, 10 Apr 2012 IANS

New Delhi, April 10 (IANS) Do not be a party in curtailing the freedom of the press, a lawyer told the Supreme Court Tuesday.


Senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, appearing for mediapersons, said the court could only be seen as promoting the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and not abridging it.


"I beseech the court not to be a party to the curtailment of freedom of press," he told the apex court constitution bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice R.P. Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar.


The court was hearing an application by the Sahara India Real Estate Corp voicing its grievance over a news channel reporting its proposal made to the Securities and Exchange Board of India on securing the money it mopped up from the market.


The court earlier said that it would frame guidelines for reporting on sub-judice matters.


"There is no necessity for the guidelines as there is an alternative mechanism to deal with the situation as provided by a judgment of the apex court," he said.


Bhushan sought the dissolution of the constitution bench, set up to lay down the guidelines.


It was incumbent upon the top court to "promote the fundamental right (free speech and expression) and not to abridge it", the senior counsel said.


The court said that it was not aiming at disturbing the contents of the news reports but only in the cases where it felt it was likely to cross the "Lakshman Rekha" its publication would be barred for a limited period.


Chief Justice Kapadia observed that "then your argument should go to its logical conclusion that Article 21 is not available to an accused". Article 21 provides an accused the right to free and fair trial.


As the court asked if the accused facing trial was entitled to right to free and fair trial under Article 21 of the constitution, Shanti Bhushan said: "Those who hear and decide the cases are judicially trained and are assisted by counsel. How they can be influenced by the publication of news reports (of the cases before them). They are judges and not jury that can be carried away."


"It is not a case of judge getting influenced. It is a case of the rights of the accused or the party before the court," said Chief Justice Kapadia.


It was also a question of maintaining the confidentiality of correspondence between the parties before the court, said the court.


The chief justice said that if mediapersons were part of the "We the people...", reference in the constitution, then the accused too were also a part of it.


"We have to balance the people against the people. It may not prejudice the right of (accused) in 99.99 percent cases. It may happen in 0.01 percent cases," said Chief Justice Kapadia.


Appearing for The Hindu newspaper's editor Siddharth Varadarajan, senior counsel Anil Divan told the court that by embarking on the course of framing the media guidelines it was stepping into quasi-legislative domain.


"You are embarking upon a quasi legislative process" and if they have to be coercive and binding then it is legislative process, the senior counsel said.


The senior counsel said that if the guidelines framed by the apex court were further clothed by parliament into a statute then it would not be open to challenge before any judicial forum.


Divan told the court that when the government seeks to bring in a bill before parliament for making a law then there was a draft bill which got discussed and debated and people knew what was being introduced.


The chief justice said: "This is not an adversarial litigation. This is just as a regulator asking all the stake holders to suggest if certain area can be protected."


The chief justice said all those who are involved in the proceedings know what is happening.


Earlier appearing for the Press Council of India, senior counsel P.P. Rao told the court that there were certain guidelines but the electronic media was not covered under them. He told the court that the council did not have the power to enforce these guidelines.


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