Right of Press to report truthfully and faithfully | Press shall NOT indulge in sensationalism: Ker HC

Kerala High Court

Kerala High Court: Stating that, though the Press has a duty to inform the public, the Division Bench of Devan Ramachandran and Sophy Thomas, JJ., observed that, it is the well-accepted thumb rule that the Press shall not indulge in sensationalism; or in speculating upon the guilt or otherwise of any accused or other individual; or to create an opinion about the comportment or character of a person involved in the Trial; and not to embellish, by impelling or sponsoring an opinion they seek.

Appellant challenged the interim order wherein the Single Judge had issued a direction against the appellant ‘not to publish/broadcast/ telecast any item concerning or relating to the petitioner herein while reporting about Crime No.6/2022 of Crime Branch Police Station and S.C.No.118/2018 of Additional Special Sessions Court (SPE/CBI) III, Ernakulam except the order of the Court for a period of three weeks from today’. 

The contention of the appellant was that the above amounted to a complete ban and operates as a violation of the well-recognized principles of the freedom of the Press, to report and publish the truth.

Analysis and Decision

High Court stated that, it will address the issue: Parameters which are to be kept in mind when a News Media reports on an ongoing Criminal Trial or investigation.

For the above-stated issue, Court stated that its path was illuminated by the holdings of the Supreme Court in Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd. v. SEBI, (2012) 10 SCC 603, wherein, the Hon’ble Court has unambiguously declared that orders postponing reporting of certain phases of Criminal Trial (including identity of the victim or the witness or the complainant) can be applied for a short duration and solely in cases of “real and substantial risk of prejudice” to the proper administration of justice or to the fairness of Trial.

Bench expressed that, the various High Courts and the Supreme Court have repeatedly been engaged qua the contours of the tenuous balance between reporting of facts relating to a crime and the unexpendable requirements to be maintained for a Fair Trial; but there can be little doubt that the Press have a duty to inform the public truthfully about the crimes and the facts relating to investigation, arrest and such other.

Expressing in a more elaborate manner, with respect to the above, Court added that the press certainly cannot be allowed to run amok and will have to be imposed with reasonable restrictions, so as to make sure that every trial and investigation is conducted fairly, openly and above board.

“Press has a duty to inform the public, the publication of lurid details and other sensitive investigative inputs, which are within the sole jurisdiction of the courts to decide upon, certainly require to be put on a tight leash.”

Coming to the impugned order, Bench stated that though it does not want to speak in detail on the merits of the rival factual contentions but there is no doubt that direction not to publish/broadcast/ telecast ‘any item’ concerning or relating to the appellant’, certainly travels beyond the reasonableness of the restrictions sanctioned by the Supreme Court. 

The term ‘any item’ is not merely very vague but would also cause an unfair fetter on the Press to make a fair reporting within the parameters of law, and therefore, we (Court) feel it necessary to modify the same, though to a very limited extent.

 Bench deemed it apposite to dispose of the writ appeal, vacating the impugned order to the extent to which it had restrained the appellant from reporting ‘any item’ relating to the first respondent but clarifying that they shall not engage in sensationalism, or pursue any line of reportage intended to forge an impression against the first respondent or any other accused or witness with respect to their involvement or otherwise in the crime; and without in any manner, commenting about the ‘in camera’ proceedings.

Further, the Court stated that, when the Investigating Officers have already been restrained by the aforesaid order against the State Police Chief, the apprehension of the first respondent stands allayed fully; and resultantly, an absolute ban for publication of ‘any item’ relating to the writ petitioner would perhaps be not relevant any further.[Indo-Asian News Channel (P) Ltd. v. T.N. Suraj, 2022 SCC OnLine Ker 2710, decided on 6-5-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the appellant:

BY ADVS. SRI.KALEESWARAM RAJ

           C.P. UDAYABHANU

           THULASI K. RAJ

           SHILPA SOMAN

For the Respondents:

BY SR.ADV.SRI.GEORGE POONTHOTTAM

SRI.NAVANEETH KRISHNAN

BY SR. GOVT. PLEADER SRI.BIJOY CHANDRAN

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