Why can’t you think of statutory body for electronic media, HC asks Centre

Court was hearing pleas seeking direction to authorities to issue guidelines for all media to curtail comments on actor Sushant Singh Rajput death.

The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the Union government, “is there any mechanism for checking the content broadcast by news channels before the ‘damage is done’.”

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and justice G.S. Kulkarni was hearing a bunch of public interest litigation petitions seeking a direction from the court to the authorities to issue guidelines for all media to curtail any comments that may jeopardise the reputation of the police and hinder administration of justice in the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

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Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Union, cited several Supreme Court judgments to say that the court had maintained that the government must not interfere with the freedom of press, and the press must be encouraged to have a system of self-regulation.

To this, the court said: “These judgments are from 2012-2013. Times have changed. This is the most misused freedom now.”

‘Unfettered licence’

The bench said, “Everyone seems to be having an unfettered licence to say whatever they want… Before the so-called damage is done, is there any machinery to check that? Or do you act only when a certain news is disseminated and complaints are received?”

Justice Kulkarni said, “We are concerned with the efficiency of the present mechanism. Once the self-regulation has failed, what should be the remedy? That is the concern. We are in that situation, where the self-regulation has failed.”

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The court went on to say that media must keep in mind that a person’s reputation is not tarnished unduly. “Media has fundamental right to freedom. But that cannot be used to infringe the rights of others. This cannot go unregulated,” it observed.

“For the print media, there is the Press Council of India; for cinemas, there is a censor board. Why can’t you think of a similar statutory body for the electronic media. You [Union] do not seem to be in the mood to ruffle feathers with respect to the electronic media. In a case where the media crosses the ‘Lakshman Rekha’, it is for Parliament to step in. Why should the court do it?”, it stated.

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The Chief Justice said if appropriate action was not taken, then the entire system would collapse. The court urged Mr. Singh to treat the situation as an “SOS” and adjourned the matter to October 19.

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