Media Trial: Union government says it doesn’t support ‘insensitive’ coverage

The Union government on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that it does not support and instead condemns media trial. The government, however, emphasised on the need to have a 'free' media.

Arguing for the Union, additional solicitor general Anil Singh told a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, just like the courts, the government too condemns media trial. "We do not support media trial and we do condemn them," ASG submitted, adding, "There are existing statutory rules that cover electronic media too."

The submissions were made in response to a query made by the judges on a previous hearing if there could be a statutory council on the lines of the Press Council of India (PCI) to regulate the content of the electronic media.

During the course of the hearing, ASG Singh further clarified that the government has taken cognizance of complaints received by it against the media houses for their 'insensitive' coverage.

Further, referring to various judgments of the Supreme Court, ASG Singh, highlighted, "It is a fundamental paradigm of freedom of speech that media must be free from governmental control in the matter of the content. It must be noted that censorship and free speech are sworn enemies."

"It has been held that freedom of the press is not only an essential prerequisite of democracy but the mother of all liberties. Articles 14, 19, and 21 do not constitute water-tight compartments," the ASG added.

Meanwhile, a counsel appearing for one of the petitioners, argued that publishing news of 'imminent' proceedings would attract contempt of court's law and that the publisher or the journalist could be punished accordingly. The counsel argued that publishing news regarding cases after an FIR is registered could amount to contempt of the court's act as the FIR registration marks the beginning of the 'judicial proceedings.'

CJ Datta, however, disputed the arguments saying that till the time the prosecution files a chargesheet in a criminal case, the judiciary has no role in the matter, and instead the proceedings are under the domain of the executive.

The bench, which is seized with a clutch of petitions highlighting the media trial in Sushant Singh Rajput death case, would continue hearing the matter on Friday morning.

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