The Supreme Court is in the process of framing guidelines to deal with arsonists indulging in wanton destruction of public property during protests, such as the Jat agitation, which resulted in estimated losses worth thousands of crores. Yet, curiously, the court doesn’t want the media to report the arguments that it will hear in this regard.
Noting that important questions of law were involved in the issue before it, the bench told media persons present in the courtroom that questions and answers during the hearing should not be reported.
The Delhi High Court too has issued orders to keep secret and confidential the proceedings in the JNU sedition case before the trial court. The HC’s order is understandable in view of violent incidents at Patiala House Court when JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar was produced by the police. The HC’s order is aimed at ensuring safety of the accused. But it’s difficult to appreciate the rationale behind the SC move on shutting the media out as there is no threat to public order from journalists.
While arson and destruction beams freely into people’s homes, courtesy 24x7 media, judicial proceedings aimed at framing guidelines to hold the perpetrators to account can’t be reported.
Open court proceedings have been a norm in India. Any deviation has to be guided by larger public interest or to avoid imminent danger to life and property.
Court proceedings are not just between the judiciary and the government. Citizens are also legitimate stakeholders as they are the worst affected during agitations.
The SC has taken a citizen-friendly move and media reporting can enrich the process of framing guidelines to deal with rioters by opening it up to a larger public discourse. Media is an interface between the system and the society. Unless, journalists indulge in something illegal or irresponsible, they should not be barred from reporting such important proceedings. After all, they are an important link between judiciary and public.
Judiciary has been often criticised for its mindset of feeling comfortable in opacity. Its reluctance to implementation of the Right to Information Act and love for secret system of judges appointing judges are often cited as examples in this regard.
Not many judges are aware of the nature of work mediapersons do. Judiciary needs to understand media and its role in a democracy and treat it as an ally and not as one that unnecessarily obstructs the judicial process. Misgivings, if any, can be dispelled through dialogues at institutional level.