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Media And Courts (Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971)

The existence of free and fearless media in a democratic society is eminent. Media not only provides information but also acts as a catalyst in forming opinion of millions of people, thereby, educating the citizens about the happening around the globe. free media is a result of fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

The media is expected to work within the framework of the constitution and the other rules and regulations laid down by the Press Council of India. To keep a check on the misuse by it on the freedom provided to it, an independent judiciary is necessary. The working of both judiciary and media in harmony are important for the working of the democracy and for ensuring maximum justice.

However, often when the media tries to interfere with the administration of justice, the judiciary using its powers guaranteed by constitution, imposes reasonable restrictions on media's freedom of speech and expression as specified in Article 19(2) of constitution.

One such reasonable restriction specifies is contempt of court. Contempt of court is a medium through which the judiciary upholds it dignity. This limitation ensures that no outside force can intrude into the course of justice.

Apart from Article 19(2), 129(2) and 215(3) of the constitution protect the contempt of court proceedings.

Contempt Of Court Act, 1971:

The first legislation was the Contempt of Court Act, 1926 which after several amendments is Contempt of Court Act, 1971. Being courts of record, the supreme court and high court have inherent power to take proceedings under contempt of court.

Sec.2(b) and (c) of the said Act define civil and criminal contempt respectively. Civil Contempt is the disobedience of the orders of court. Criminal Contempt refers to any publication which scandalizes the court, prejudices the proceedings, interferes with administration of justice.

The publication which fail to fulfil the condition mentioned in section 3 would not lead to contempt of courts as section 3 protects an individual from contempt proceedings if done in ignorance of a pending suit.

The defence available to contempt proceedings are mentioned in section 4 and 5. It is to be noted that it wont amount to contempt of court when the publication is not made during the pendency of the suit. Furthermore, the question of pendency would not occur when the contempt is relating to sec.2(c)(i) i.e. scandalizing any court.

Interference By Media:

The reason behind initiating contempt proceedings is not to restrict freedom of speech and expression but to stop disruption of justice. Sometimes due to over enthusiasm media tends to cross the limits by vigilant reporting in matters which are subjudice. This results in media trials, wrong public opinion, giving away of misinformation. The important aspect of public faith in the justice of the country gets affected.

Sometimes extensive coverage during trial can violate a person's right to free trial. Right to free trial essentially means a trial without any extra pressure.

IN kathua gang rape case, which happened in January 2018, some media houses revealed the identity of the minor victim. The Delhi Court took suo motu cognizance and ordered those media houses to deposit Rs 10 lakhs as penalty.

Sec. 23 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, and sec 228A makes revealing the identity of rape victim a punishable offence.

Another example which is of relevance here is of the accused of 26/11 Mumbai Terrorist Attack. The media channels even before the final judgement held debates and declared by itself that the accused will be hanged till death. Such acts of media lowers the importance of the courts in the eyes of the people.

It is thus important for the courts to use contempt of court proceedings as a shield against the interfering acts of media to avoid violation of the accused and victim's rights to free trial and any serious risk of prejudice.

In the case of R.K.Anand v. Registrar, Delhi High Court, the supreme court stated that a report relating to a sub judice matter can be published only after the prior consent of the courts or it would amount to consequences. It also stated that due to provoking publication by media, regardless of the result, the public will hold the accused guilty.

Fair And Accurate Report:

According to sec.4 of the act, there can be no contempt of court proceedings against the media when the publication of the report of judicial proceedings is fair and accurate, subject to sec.7.

Sec.5 allows a fair criticism of any case which has been heard and decided. The reason behind inclusion of fair criticism is that justice should be seen to be done and should be open to scrutiny.

In the landmark case of Ram Dayal v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the supreme court laid the test to judge whether a particular publication is fair and reasonable. It stated that if the criticism is likely to hinder the administration of justice or threaten the offence of public in the court of justice; the criticism shall not be considered on fair and accurate.

In the most recent case of Prashant Bhushan and Another, The supreme court initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Twitter India, on the basis of two tweets posted by Bhushan on the social media platform.

On 29june 2020, he published a tweet about Chief Justice Of India, accompanied by a picture of CJI Bobde on a motorcycle. On 2 July, Mehak Maheshwari filed a petition against him requesting the court to initiate contempt proceedings for the tweet, alleging that:
It inspired a feeling of no-confidence in the independence of the judiciary and amounted to scandalizing the court.

The court fined Bhushan INR 1. He was required to pay this before 15 September 2020. Further, in the event of non-compilance Bhushan would be punished with 3 months imprisonment and debarred from practising law for 3 years. He ultimately paid the fine before the given deadline.

In January 2021, The supreme court observed that criticism of courts if "growing and everybody is now doing it" while giving three weeks to Cartoonist Rachita Taneja, to file her reply on the plea seeking contempt action for her alleged scandalous tweets against judiciary.

The public can be a part of the democracy only when there is transparency in the functioning of every pillar. Thus except for certain cases openness should be the order of the day for the judiciary as its strength lies in the confidence of the people.

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