The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Centre, the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association on a petition to set up an independent media tribunal to hear complaints against platforms that indulge in hate speech, and spread fake information, reported PTI.
Filed through three advocates, the plea said the media, particularly the electronic medium, had become like “an unruly horse which needs to be tamed”.
A bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian took note of the application, which also sought setting up of an independent committee, headed by either by a former Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge, to review the “entire legal framework related to media business regulations”, according to Live Law.
Petitioners Rajesh Inamdar, Shashwat Anand and Amit Pai said the plea was not intended to curb the fundamental rights of media houses, but to bring “about some accountability for misinformation, inflammatory coverage, fake news and breach of privacy”.
Without taking names, the application said that several media companies used these tactics to further their businesses. “Over the last few years, media trials, hate speech, propaganda news, paid news, have become the order of the day, thereby impeding the right to a fair trial of victims and right to fair and proportionate reporting,” the plea noted. “It is submitted that reckless reportage by the electronic media without accountability can, by no stretch of imagination, be read into the right to freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the electronic media.”
The plea added that the exercise of power by the electronic media, without any accountability, was “severely detrimental to the due process of law, and contrary to the rule of law”.
Additionally, such reportage negates the fundamental rights of the citizens, including the right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to education, as well as the right to fair information and proportionate media reporting, the application said.
The petitioners further noted that self-regulation by media “cannot be the answer to the problem at hand”, as it is only the judiciary, which enjoys that privilege under the Constitution. “Equating the media business with the judiciary, in terms of the privilege of ‘self-regulation’ directly strikes upon the Independence of the judiciary and rattles and shakes the very foundations of the Indian Constitutional Scheme and the Democracy, and the same goes against every notion and canon of law and justice prevailing in India,” the plea stated.
Therefore, the petitioners urged the Supreme Court to issue guidelines to regulate media content, until a legislation to that end was introduced by the government. For this, the plea sought the setting up of an independent “high powered committee” headed by a retired Chief Justice or a judge of the Supreme Court or High Court, and consisting of “distinguished citizens” from different professions, along with concerned stakeholders of the central government.
The panel would scrutinise and review the entire legal framework relating to media regulation, and recommend appropriate guidelines to be laid down by the Supreme Court, the application said.
The plea further stated that if the above reliefs are granted, the same would not impede the freedom of press, as suitable restrictions on the media are constitutionally valid under Article 19(2).
“The establishment of an independent, regulatory tribunal or judicial-body, known can hear and expeditiously adjudicate upon complaint petitions against the media-businesses filed by the viewers, [or]citizens,” it added. “The tribunal can bring about consequences for acting in a fashion that is contrary to constitutional goals and morality.”