Supreme Court takes exception to absence of Press Council, Editors Guild & Indian Broadcasting Federation

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday took strong exception to non-appearance of any representative from the Press Council of India, the Editors Guild and the Indian Broadcasting Federation to assist it in dealing with the issue of alleged non-adherence of statutory provisions in broadcasting news related to rape and sexual abuses. The apex court also sought to know from the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), which was the only media body to comply with its order to appear before it, about the action taken by them against media persons who have violated the statutory requirement under relevant laws while reporting incidents of rape and sexual abuse.

On September 20, the top court issued notices to four media bodies to assist it in the matter which deals with alleged non-compliance of statutory provisions about disclosure of identity of victims of rape and sexual abuses by the media. A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta observed it had sought assistance of these bodies in the matter and notices issued against them have already been served. “Only NBSA has put in appearance. There is no appearance at all from Press Council of India, Editors Guild and Indian Broadcasting Federation. It appears that they are not inclined to assist us otherwise they must have put in appearance at least,” the bench said.

During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the NBSA told the court there were “ample guidelines” to deal with such issues. “There may be thousands of guidelines. The question is of implementation. How many people are there against whom you have taken action?,” the bench asked. When the NBSA’s counsel said they have taken action in several cases, the bench said, “show us one”. The counsel, while contending that action have been taken and in several cases fine were imposed, said he would place the orders passed by the NBSA in such cases. “Tell us whether these orders have been implemented. Put it in an affidavit,” the court said, adding, “Tell us about the orders passed in 2018”.

The NBSA’s counsel also told the bench that regulations were in place to deal with such instances. “We have requested NBSA to inform us on an affidavit with regard to action taken against any person who has violated statutory requirements under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and the Indian Penal Code,” the bench noted in its order. The court also sought to know about the action taken by the NBSA against those who have violated the NBSA guidelines in 2018. The counsel said he would file an affidavit giving all the details within three days. The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on October 22.

On September 20, the court observed that there was “no mechanism” to enforce and implement legal provisions and guidelines on media reporting on rape and sexual abuse cases. The bench, which had observed that there cannot be a blanket ban on media reporting in such cases, was informed that guidelines and statutory provisions were being “routinely violated” as the press was doing “media trial”. The court, in the “interest of all victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence”, had restrained the electronic media from telecasting or broadcasting their images even in morphed or blurred form and had also asked media not to interview such victims.

The issue had cropped up when senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for a scribe who had challenged the Patna High Court order banning media from reporting on probe into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, had said that guidelines and provisions were being violated and media was indulging in conducting independent probe in such cases. The court had also vacated the high court’s August 23 order with regard to the media reporting in the Muzaffarpur case. Over 30 girls were allegedly raped and sexually abused at a shelter home in Muzaffarpur run by Brajesh Thakur, the chief of the state-funded NGO.

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