The order said, “We have also noticed that in the media, both print media as well as electronic media, the reporting is made with respect to the case and even with respect to investigation. The same may hamper the investigation very seriously… Under the circumstances, till the investigation is completed, 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 seriously.
This open censorship by the judiciary of media’s access to details of Muzaffarpur shelter home abuse is unfair and unjust as famous legal and social reformer Jeremy Bentham said, “Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity.”
MUZZLING MEDIA BY JUDICIARY HAS A SHAMEFUL PAST–
The freedom of speech runs parallel to the core of Indian Constitution having a symbiotic relationship with Indian Judiciary but few of the notorious examples from past stand contrary to this character of the rule of law. There has been a series of deliberate attempts by a section of Indian Judiciary, to strike the heart of our democratic governance. Early this year, there was a gag order by a trial court for reporting by journalists on trial of the Sohrabuddin Shaikh fake encounter case but this was vehemently quashed by Bombay High Court.
Justice Revati Mohite-Dere in her order said, “The rights of the press are intrinsic with the constitutional right that guarantees freedom of expression. In reporting from an open trial, the press not only makes use of its own right but serves the larger purpose of making such information available to the general public.”
Last year, it repeated- the Allahabad High Court gagged the media from reporting on an ongoing case concerning an alleged instance of hate speech by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. In 2014, Delhi High Court reporting about the sexual harassment case against former Supreme Court judge Swatanter Kumar, just because the reputation of a high and mighty apex court judge was at stake and because a cabal of lawyers were determined that the public were not entitled to know the unsavoury truth. The reason cited by the Allahabad High Court to justify the gag order, although the court did not provide any examples of “misquotation”.
INDIRECT IMPUNITY FROM PUBLIC QUESTIONING–
Intricate observation of this subjugation by judiciary must be considered as an indirect favour for culpable individuals who are either under arrest and or for those who are under suspicion of having linked to horrifying mass sexual assault. Few big names such as Suresh Sharma, the Minister for Urban development has surfaced due to hawk eye of journalists. Media has constantly exposed the political patronage which Brajesh Thakur, the main culprit had enjoyed for years.
Newspapers like Navbharat Times, Economic Times kept an eye over regular updates on the exploitation of shelter home inmates keeping them in the public domain. But their identity such as names was handled with utmost precaution without disclosure. The questioning trail by media practically became a nightmare for a spineless state government of Nitish Kumar. Moreover, the floating argument justifying court’s order makes no sense. The sensitivity of the case was well known by the fact that victims of this heinous crime are minors in large number. Keeping their identity intact remains a wholesome responsibility of- the media, the state apparatus, CBI and the society but the reason of the high court pulling up media’s freedom was not even specifically mentioned and supported by any argument. One among the four pillar of India Democracy, the Judiciary should have understood that public hearing ensures that no individual is above or below the law and that every individual and organ of the state is accountable for his/her actions. Instead of behaving as a responsible entity, Susashan babu and his government are on mute mode as their failure is now under cover of high court’s arbitrary, anti-democratic order.
The gag order has come under fire of media fraternity. Editors Guild of India condemned the move, even the journalists of Patna came up with a written protest. Reporting on any trial serves the larger purpose of making information available to the general public.
As the British judge Lord Diplock said- “if the way that courts behave cannot be hidden from the public ear and eye, this provides a safeguard against judicial arbitrariness or idiosyncrasy and maintains the public confidence in the administration of justice”.
Justice must not only be done but also be seen as being done, which is remains the sole purpose of open court. We are entitled to know whether justice delivery system is adequately transparent or whether the state is misusing the machinery and representing the distorted part of reality to the society.
The responsibility of the court under the Constitution is to deliver justice, and a functional democracy is defined by a responsible justice system that is open, transparent access to each and every individual.
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