Kar HC | Journalists & other media personnel are on the field to disseminate correct information just like police, doctors, nurses & government personnel carrying out essential duties

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of B.V. Nagarathna and Suraj Govindaraj, JJ., while addressing petition held that,

Role of journalists and media personnel cannot be underestimated nor undermined during this pandemic and just like the police doctors, nurses, and Government personnel and others carrying out essential duties, in the same way, the journalists and other media personnel are on the field to disseminate correct information.

Present petition was filed to seek direction to respondents to provide safety masks, kits, gloves and personal protection equipment (PPE) and compensation to families of media persons, newspaper delivery agents in case of death due to COVID-19.

Role of Media

Petitioner states that, media personnel and journalists, both print and electronic media, are working day and night so as to create awareness amongst the general public about the harmful effects of the Corona Virus and also for prevention of its spread and disseminating news, views as well as information in that regard.

Role of media, both print and electronic, in this regard is important and vital and it should also be considered as an essential service as the media is providing vital information to the people about the policies and directions of the Government and creating awareness amongst them with regard to the programmes and schemes initiated by the Union and State Governments for the benefit of the people.

Media personnel have no social security benefit in the event of an unfortunate death while in the line of duty as their families are not paid any compensation.

It was further added that, many media houses have not properly maintained social distancing and the reporters who are on the ground, lack basic personal protective equipment when they go out to cover news relating to Covid-19.

Thus, State and the Central Governments  should announce a compensation scheme for media personnel just as they have done for Police personnel and doctors/health care workers, as the media persons are also facing the same risk as the aforesaid categories of Corona Warriors.

Similarly, newspaper delivery agents are also under the same risk of contacting the virus and they should also be covered under the compensation scheme.

Decision

Importance of the media in our democracy cannot be underestimated.

Often the press is called the Fourth Estate, while the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary being the other three pillars of the Constitution.

Bench added to its’ conclusion that, media is a channel through which governmental polices are disseminated to the people of the country so that there could be enough debate on the pros and cons of such policies of the Government.

For accurate and responsible reporting by media, media personnel’s would have to risk their health and life to be on ground zero, at hot spots an in containment zones so as to collect information and convey the same to public at large.

Dissemination of information must be truthful and communicated without any exaggeration and not with the object of sensationalizing or creating a fear psychosis amongst the people.

Thus Court directed 1st and 2nd respondent to consider the representations made by the petitioner as early as possible.

Role of the press and electronic media in recent times has been of significance and immense. In this context Court referred to the judgment of Supreme Court inIndian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. UOI (1985) 1 SCC 641, wherein its been stated that,

“In today’s free world freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. The press has now assumed the role of public educator, making formal and non-formal education possible in a large scale, particularly, where television and other kinds of modern communication may not still be available for all sections of society.”

In times such as this, where the novel Corona virus Covid-19, which is a pandemic has engulfed the world at large including India and during this lockdown period, journalists are visiting the containment zones, apart from green, orange or even red zones designated by the State Governments, having regard to the intensity of spread of the disease in the State.

Role of journalists and media personnel cannot be underestimated nor undermined during this pandemic and just like the police doctors, nurses, and Government personnel.

With the above observations, petition is disposed of. [Jacob George v. Secy., Department of Information and Broadcasting, 2020 SCC OnLine Kar 541 , decided on 15-05-2020]

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