A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said, “This court stands as a staunch proponent of the freedom of the media to report court proceedings. This, we believe, is integral to the freedom of speech and expression of those who speak, of those who wish to hear and to be heard and above all, in holding the judiciary accountable to the values which justify its existence as a constitutional institution.”
Citing the fillip the freedom struggle got from the reportage of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s sedition trial, the bench said, “The heart of the matter, which is the first prayer that the EC has raised – that of seeking a restraint on the media on reporting court proceedings. The basis of its application was that nothing apart from what forms a part of the official judicial record should be reported. This prayer of the EC strikes at two fundamental principles guaranteed under the Constitution – open court proceedings, and the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Importantly, the court brought up the issue of livestreaming of court proceedings, as is the practice in the Supreme Courts of the US and the UK. Justice Chandrachud said though the SC three years ago in the Swapnil Tripathi case had in principle approved the live telecast of SC hearings and suggested the modalities, it is yet to implement the same in letter and spirit.
Court orders are important. So are observations made during the hearings. These days several online media organisations also tweet observations live. Objecting to news flow in any form would actually mean denying people the right to full information. It is great that the apex court has embraced the need of the times.
“Unless livestreaming and archival of court proceedings sees the light of day (three years have elapsed since the decision in Swapnil Tripathi), the absence of records of oral proceedings will continue to bedevil the system,” Justice Chandrachud said while ruing the absence of material to confirm Madras HC’s purported hurtful remarks against the EC, which was widely reported in the media, causing consternations to the constitutional body mandated to conduct free and fair elections.
“With the advent of technology, we are seeing reporting proliferate through social media forums which provide real-time updates to a much wider audience. This is an extension of the freedom of speech and expression that the media possesses. This constitutes a virtual extension of the open court. This phenomenon is not a cause of apprehension, but a celebration of our constitutional ethos which bolsters the integrity of the judiciary by focusing attention on its functions,” the bench said.