SC seeks response on media gag

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the response of the CBI and the Bihar government on a PIL challenging the blanket ban imposed by Patna High Court on media reporting of the Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual abuse case.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 12.09.18
  •  

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the response of the CBI and the Bihar government on a PIL challenging the blanket ban imposed by Patna High Court on media reporting of the Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual abuse case.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta also stayed the high court order appointing a lady officer to interact with the victims and give suggestions to it on dealing with the shelter home scandal.

The apex court passed the direction on a PIL filed by Bihar journalist Nivedita Jha, through advocate Fauzia Shakil, challenging the ban as a serious violation of free speech and contrary to a five-judge constitution bench ruling of 2012 that there cannot be any blanket ban on media reporting.

The bench on Tuesday, while appointing Shakil and another lady advocate Aparna Bhat as amicus curiae, posted the matter for further hearing to September 18.

The apex court told senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, that "there cannot be two extremes" - meaning that there can neither be unfettered media reporting nor any such blanket ban by courts on such coverage.

By the impugned order of August 23 the high court had ordered "Under the circumstances, till the investigation is completed, all the print and electronic media are hereby restrained from reporting anything with respect to the case, more particularly, with respect to the investigation already undertaken and/or which is likely to take place as it may seriously hamper the investigation of the case".

Challenging the order, the petitioner submitted that the effect of the impugned order amounts to a blanket ban on any reporting qua (with regard to) the case. This, the petitioner argued, would prevent all other forms of reporting which may not even have any impact on the investigation - like coverage of court proceedings, reporting the opinions of lawyers and activists involved in exposing the case, holding TV discussions on the issue, sensitisation of the public etc.

The petitioner submitted that the high court was not justified in ignoring that the effect of the impugned order was a gross infarction of the fundamental right of the people to know and freedom of press guaranteed under the Constitution.

"It is most pertinent to point out that there was no material before the court to come to a conclusion that the media reporting may hamper the ongoing investigation. Conspicuously, a ban on media reporting was not even demanded by the CBI that is probing the case now, nor by the State Police, which carried out the investigation earlier. There was nothing on record to support the apprehension that the reporting will prejudice the investigation in any way whatsoever. It is most pertinent to point out that responsible media coverage on the issue, as in the present case, does not interfere with the administration of criminal justice and only advances its cause," the petition said.