Strongly defending the freedom of the press in the age of transparency, eminent jurist Fali S Nariman warned the Supreme Court on Wednesday against empowering an accused in a criminal case to seek postponement of media coverage in the case till it was heard by a court.
“We should not open the floodgates for the accused to seek postponement. Big parties (powerful people) will misuse it. Courts should ensure that they do not become a shield for the accused,” Nariman said.
In his submission before the constitution bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia, Nariman expressed concern over whether the court could postpone media coverage on a case.
When the court said it was not trying to lay down general guidelines, Nariman bluntly told the bench that courts were not empowered to do so. “Courts cannot empower themselves,” he added.
Nariman had intervened when senior advocate Soli Sorabjee floated the theory of postponement. He objected to Sorabjee’s view that media coverage of a court case should not take place before a judicial forum takes cognisance of the case.
After a brief exchange with Sorabjee during the hearing, Nariman told the bench: “If you do that (postpone the reporting of a matter), one would not be able to report anything.”
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the Editors Guild of India, questioned the court’s power to lay down guidelines for court reporting.
Commencing his arguments in the case, he said: “The question is, can there be a half-way house vis-à-vis preventive and punitive measures and in between postponement on reporting?”