SC points discover to Centre on PIL looking for establishing of Media Tribunal

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 25

Amid allegations of hate speech, media trial, fake news and violation of the right to privacy against the media, the Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Centre on a PIL seeking setting up of an independent Media Tribunal to hold journalists and media houses accountable for such acts.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to respond to the PIL filed by film producer Nilesh Navalakha, and Nitin Memane, who contended that a citizen-led independent Media Tribunal was needed to hear and expeditiously adjudicate on complaints against media businesses.

It also issued notices to the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters Association and others on the PIL demanding an independent media tribunal.

“Over the past few years, media trials, hate speech, propaganda news, paid news, have become the order of the day, thereby impeding the right to a fair trial of victims and right to fair and proportionate reporting,” Navalakha and Memane submitted in their petition filed last month.

They contended that “reckless reportage by the electronic media without accountability can, by no stretch of imagination, be read into the right to freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the electronic media”.

Such a body was needed to bring about a balance between the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression of the media houses and right to reputation and the right to dignity as also in the interests of preserving peace and harmony, the petitioners submitted.

Noting that self-regulation by TV channels wasn’t good enough, the top court had on November 17 made it clear to the Centre that it wanted a statutory regime to regulate TV channels in India.

Self-regulation by TV channels through private bodies such as the National Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) wasn’t good enough, CJI Bobde had said, wondering why a private body such as NBSA should look into complaints against media.

While hearing PILs filed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Peace Party, seeking directions to the Centre to stop the dissemination of “fake news”, it had asked the Centre to consider creating a mechanism to address grievances against fake news circulated by TV channels and media.

“What is shown on TV channels is of great consequences for the country… Create a mechanism under the law if there is none at present,” it had told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta after he submitted that there was no regime for content regulation of electronic media.

It had asked the government to inform it in three weeks about putting in place a proper regime to regulate TV channels.

Maintaining that the exercise of power by the electronic media without any accountability was detrimental to the due process of law, and contrary to the rule of law, Navalakha’s PIL urged the court to issue appropriate guidelines for the regulation of media in exercise of the plenary and inherent powers under Article 32 and 142 of the Constitution, until a legislation was introduced.

He said self-regulation by media could not be the answer to the problem, he sought setting up of an independent high-powered committee headed by a retired Chief Justice or Judge of the Supreme Court and comprising distinguished citizens from different fields and representatives of the Central Government to scrutinise the entire legal framework relating to the regulation of media industry and recommend guidelines to be laid down by the top court.

The petitioners, however, sought to clarify that the PIL wasn’t aimed at curbing fundamental rights of the media and that they only wanted to ensure that those indulging in spreading misinformation, inflammatory coverage, fake news and breach of privacy were held to account.

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