Framing general guideline would curtail press freedom: Kerala HC

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On 21 August, the Kerala High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition moved by a lawyer, who sought for the framing of guidelines to regulate print and electronic media. “Framing a general regulation would curtail the freedom of the press,” the Bench ruled.

In Halvi KS v. State of Kerala and ors, the court observed: “Considering the facts and circumstances and the law discussed above, we have no hesitation to hold that a public interest litigation to frame guidelines to restrict the media on the basis of the allegations made in the writ petition cannot be entertained and no guidelines can be framed.”

In the petition, citing the coverage of the Kerala gold smuggling case in Malayalam media, the lawyer-petitioner raised concern over the rise in unresearched news, targeted reporting of sensational news, and the vilification of public and political functionaries without factual basis, reported Bar and Bench.

After an elaborate discussion on the Press rights as an aspect of the right to free speech, a Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly found that the Court could not frame guidelines to regulate what is broadcasted or published.

The petitioner asked for guidelines from the Court to safeguard the right of the public to be informed. The petitioner had asserted that democracy may crumble at the hands of some unscrupulous media personnel functioning under the guise of journalism, unless necessary intervention is made to prevent the same.

In doing so, the High Court referred to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sahara India Real Estate Corporation v. SEBI, where the Bench had refrained from imposing any general guideline for the prior restraint of media reportage.

The High Court in the instant case proceeded to point out that courts can still regulate the media from broadcasting issues on a case-to-case basis. The Court added that Judges could not be swayed by media reports when deciding a case unless the report itself was material for consideration.

Further, the Bench also placed emphasis on the Madras High Court’s observations concerning self-regulation by the media. The Court noted: “Under self-regulation the media voluntarily commits to uphold a code of ethics that it, itself drafts, thus providing a mechanism to which the public can complaint about perceived breaches of the court and an independent council adjudicating on the complaints and decides upon appropriate remedies in order to secure the credibility of its profession and the trust of the public…”

For these reasons, and after considering the petitioner’s lack of locus, as well as his failure to substantiate his averments, the petition was dismissed by the court.

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