Delhi High Court has asked the Media Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha to revisit its Rules and Guidelines for issuance of passes to see as to whether non issuance of annual passes to freelance journalists violate their Right to Freedom of Expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
While disposing of the petition, the Single Bench of Justice Navin Chawla noted that there are two conflicting interests that are to be balanced and tested on the touchstone of doctrine of proportionality.
In the present writ petition, the Petitioner had challenged the order dated 06/07/17 by the Media Advisory Committee of Rajya Sabha, which had restricted the issuance of passes to the journalist under the freelance category to only sessional passes thereby discontinuing its earlier practice of issuing an annual pass to the journalist under the freelance category.
In addition to this, the Petitioner had also sought court's direction to the said Committee to issue a permanent pass to the Petitioner for covering the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha.
The Petitioner claims to have to have been covering the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha as well as the Lok Sabha since 1991 as also appearing on various news channels, contributing to several news portals, newspapers, etc.
The Petitioner also held the Permanent Rajya Sabha Press Gallery till the Impugned Decision taken by the MAC on 06.07.2017.
The Petitioner had argued that the said decision of MAC is not only violative of the Fundamental Right of the petitioner guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India but also under Article 14 inasmuch as it fails to give any reasonable basis for treating the freelance journalist as a separate category from the accredited journalist for issuance of the Rajya Sabha Press Gallery Pass.
It was further argued by the Petitioner that the said order seeks to create a divide and treat freelance journalists unequally and as being inferior to those journalists who are affiliated to media houses or news agencies.
The Respondents, on the other hand, submitted that a Sub-Committee of MAC was set up in May 2017 to examine and recommend the number of freelance journalists to be admitted to the Press Gallery of the Rajya Sabha and also to rationalize the existence of two types of passes in freelance category.
The Sub-Committee in its report observed that such practice of issuing two types of passes for freelance journalists, who are professionally equal, is discriminatory and unjust and recommended only sessional passes to be issued to freelance journalists. The committee also recommended that the annual passes issued to three journalists under the freelance category should be discontinued and they should also be given sessional passes like other journalists in the said category.
Therefore, the Respondents argued that the said decision does not violate Article 19(1)(a) of the Petitioner as he can still cover the Rajya Sabha on the basis of the sessional pass.
After analysing the decisions of the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, and Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the court observed that must be noted that no person, be a journalist or otherwise, can claim an open access to the precinct of the Parliament.
'We must also keep in view the ghastly attack perpetrated by the terrorists on the Indian Parliament on 13th December, 2001', the court said.
The court further highlighted that the distinction made between various categories on the basis of circulation or the nature of agency, etc. cannot be said to be arbitrary.
In light of this the court observed that:
'there is no challenge to the decision of the MAC taken in its meeting on 19.11.2011. Therefore, this Court refrain sitself from proceeding further with such consideration. However, it would be advisable for the respondents to revisit its Rules and Guidelines for issuance of passes keeping in view the mandate of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
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