26 May 2021 9:07 AM GMT
Asserting their fundamental rights to attend, observe, transcribe and report Court proceedings pertaining to matters of general public importance, four journalists have moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking permission for Live-streaming and Live-reporting. The journalists, Nupur Thapliyal, Sparsh Upadhyay, Areeb Uddin Ahmed and Rahul Dubey have challenged the MP...
Asserting their fundamental rights to attend, observe, transcribe and report Court proceedings pertaining to matters of general public importance, four journalists have moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking permission for Live-streaming and Live-reporting.
The journalists, Nupur Thapliyal, Sparsh Upadhyay, Areeb Uddin Ahmed and Rahul Dubey have challenged the MP Video Conferencing & Audio-Visual Electronic Linkage Rules, 2020 to the extent they preclude 'third parties' from accessing virtual court proceedings and cause difficulty to media persons in real-time reporting on public forum for citizens.
Under the impugned rules, only Advocates engaged in the case, are permitted to appear and plead before the Court when hearing is done through video conferencing. Any other person, who doesn't fall within the definition of 'required person' or has no direct relation with the case, is completely barred from attending the VC proceedings.
Rule 16 of the impugned Rules prescribe that Third parties will be allowed to remain present during video conferencing upon a "specific order" being issued by the concerned Court.
In this backdrop, the Petitioners represented by Advocate Manu Maheshwari have averred,
"That the Journalists and media persons are allowed to attend the hearings only on a 'specific order' issued by the 'concerned Court', which means that if an order is not issued by the concerned Court, then the journalist like the petitioners cannot attend the proceedings and [they won't be able to cover the orders, outcome and arguments advanced by the Advocates during the hearing] they always risk adverse action being instituted against them for attending the said proceedings unauthorizedly."
It is stated that the journalists are forced to join virtual proceedings with proxy /pseudo names because if any person specifies his actual name, then the moment Court or the technical staff detects his/her presence, due to operation of impugned rules they are being immediately disconnected/eliminated from the virtual proceedings.
"Any rule(s) which compels, coerces and forces any journalist, media person or a litigant to do away with his identity, whilst attending the Court proceeding is itself constitutionally viscous and cannot withstand the scrutiny of basic precepts of a transparent, visible and accessible judicial system of any democratic country like India. It leads and perpetrates autocracy, opacity, wherein the subjects are afraid of disclosing their name and identity, lest they shall be excluded from the virtual audience right away," the Petitioners state.
They have urged the High Court to provide them access to the virtual proceedings of all the cases of constitutional importance, significance, subject matter of public discourse or any such case of social relevance or having social implications.
An interim relief is also sought for live streaming of all the proceedings relating to and rising out of Covid-19 pandemic, being heard by the various Benches of the High Court on an immediate basis.
"The live transmission and streaming of Covid-19 matters shall ensure public faith in the phenomenal efforts of this Court in handling the various issues arising out of handling of the pandemic by State Government, but shall also keep the executive severely under check of what it says before the Court and what is does in action on the field," the Petitioners have urged.
The Petitioners have relied on the case of Swapnil Tripathi & Ors. v. Supreme Court of India & Ors., whereby the Supreme Court had decided to live-stream Court proceedings in the larger public interest.
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant", a five-Judge Bench had observed.
Pursuant to this judgment, it is pointed out, the High Courts of Kerala, Bombay, Gujarat and Madras have also adopted 'live-streaming' of Court proceedings.
The petition also refers to a recent decision of the Supreme Court, dismissing Election Commission's plea to restrain media from reporting the oral remarks of judges.
Freedom Of Speech & Expression Extends To Reporting Judicial Proceedings: Supreme Court Rejects ECI Prayer To Stop Media Reporting Of Oral Remarks
Similar petitions have also been filed before the High Courts of Allahabad and Rajasthan.
An application has also been filed before the Gujarat High Court seeking e-access for media. It is urged that a direction be made to the Registry to provide Court Video Conferencing Links to the Press Media immediately, to enable them to report the Court proceedings, on the Court Video Conferencing Links being provided to them.