The Karnataka High Court, on Tuesday dropped the criminal contempt proceedings, initiated against Deccan Herald, and three local Kannada, new channels, BTV, TV5 and Digvijay, for publishing false news, after accepting their unconditional apology and their willingness to pay a cost of Rs 73 lakh (total cost on all respondents).
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Hemant Chandangoudar, while dropping the charges said ;
"We hope and trust that this order acts as a lesson to those who think of making scandalous attack on the judiciary. We are following highest traditions of higher courts, following majestic liberalism. Considering what has happened silence was not an option before us. Act of showing leniency, mercy be not treated as act of weakness."
Deccan Herald had published a report titled "Rupees 9 crores was seized from the residence of a City Civil Court (Bengaluru) Judge, in a raid by the vigilance wing of the Karnataka High Court. This was followed by the three news channels, BTV even showed a video clip of alleged seized notes being counted. The bench in it's order said "We are showing leniency reluctantly also because we do not have the heart to send anybody to jail."
The respondents have been told to deposit the amount of cost with the High Court, Registrar General, within eight weeks, of the order being made available. In case of BTV, which has been imposed a cost of RS 20 lakh, court has directed it to pay RS 10 lakh, within 8 weeks and the remaining amount within 16 weeks of the order made available. The cost imposed on Deccan Herald is RS 30 lakh. On TV5, RS 8 lakh, Digivijay TV, RS 10 lakh. Deccan Herald, also has agreed to carry out an internal disciplinary inquiry against the reporter, to be conducted by a retired judicial officer. Every organisation also assured of taking steps for regulating news flow and putting up check for publishing judicial news.
The court held that the report published by Deccan Herald, is nothing but scandalising the court, when no material available to newspaper, to print the news as headline which has a circulation of 2.2 lakh. It added that the report shows the High Court in poor light, as it suggest that the administration is bypassing all laws and conduction investigation, against judicial officers which are bound by a set of rules.
The bench said "The news item must have been seen by family members, relatives and friends of judges. Judicial officers have no protection. Rule of self constraint requires, not to respond to incorrect reports. The report not only scandalise the institution, but lowers the status of the instituion in the mind of citizens and litigants. We as judges of constitution court have abundant powers, to protect the rights of citizens. But when it comes to such frivolous allegations we are hardly able to protect it."
The court accepted the states suggestion to deposit the amount with the registrar general which can be used for repairs and renovation of judicial officers quarters, at National Games Village, Koramangala.
The bench also said that the guidelines suggestions made by Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, would be considered by the high court on the administration side.
As per the suggestions:
*Each of the Television and print media houses that have correspondents covering legal proceedings both at the high courts a well as the trial courts must ensure that correspondents are well trained in reporting on legal proceedings and must preferably have basic legal education.
* The Designated court reporters must be registered with the registrar of the high court.
* Each of the reporters must at all times wear an identifiable badges to be issued after due registration with the Registrar of the High Court.
* As a matter of self regulation, the media must exercise caution and restraint while reporting on everyday court proceedings, since observations are often made in the courts that are tentative in nature and do not form the final opinion of the court. Reporters must show restraint while reporting such observations since the wrong message is often portrayed to the public that the court has already formed an opinion on a case that is sub-judice. This causes great prejudice both to the parties and to the administration of justice