In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Monday sought the response of the Central government on a petition praying that a ‘Media Tribunal’ be constituted to hear and expeditiously adjudicate complaints against media networks and television channels (Nilesh Navalakha v. Union of India).
The petition by filmmaker and social activist, Nilesh Navalakha and activist Nitin Memane claimed that Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Union of India, has totally failed in the discharge of its duties and enforcement of the Programme Code to which television channels are expected to adhere.
“The judicially unregulated Media-Business is able to be used by politicians, police officers and other public officials who wish to put out propaganda to advance their own interests and influence public opinion. A hunger for “leaks” and “scoops” (which sometimes precipitates the events which they predict) and some journalists‟ relationship with the sources who provide them with information, can make it difficult for the media to maintain its independence and a critical stance,” the petition filed through advocates Pai Amit, Rajesh Inamdar and Shashwat Anand stated.
The petitioners also submitted that self-regulation of such channels cannot be the answer.
“The whole self-regulatory process makes the Electronic Media Broadcaster a judge in his own case, thereby completely negating the rule of law enshrined in our Constitution,” it was submitted.
A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued notice on the plea which also prayed that guidelines be issued outlining the broad regulatory paradigm within which media houses, i.e., broadcasters and electronic media, can exercise their rights under Article 19(1), so as to judicially regulate the same.
The petitioners contended that there is a need for balance between the right to freedom of speech and expression of the Media -Businesses and the competing right to information of the citizenry under Article 19(1)(a), right to reputation and the right to dignity under Article 21.
The plea, it was clarified, is not to curb the fundamental rights of the media-business, but only to bring “about some accountability for misinformation, inflammatory coverage, fake news, breach of privacy, etc. which the Media-Business has indulged in.”
However, news broadcasters and electronic media cannot claim immunity from the imposition of reasonable restrictions and cannot claim to enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), without being subject to restrictions under Article 19(2), it was submitted.