Cautioning the media against violating privacy of parties involved in marital dispute, the Karnataka High court has observed that the publication or telecast of information involving the marital relationships of the parties to litigation is prohibited under law.
Justice B. Veerappa said that the media attention should be towards exposing corruption, nepotism, law breaking etc. rather than intruding into the personal life of individuals.
The court was considering a petition filed by a lady seeking to restrain a channel from telecasting the information provided by her husband in respect of her personal life with him. Allowing the petition, the court directed them not to telecast any information pertaining to her life, since the matter is before the Family Court.
Referring to Section 22 of the Hindu Marriage Act, the bench observed that it applies to every proceeding under the Act. The court added that the Right of privacy in matrimonial matters between the parties in litigation under Marriage Act is personal to the litigating parties. It said:
As the freedom of the press is for the dissemination of information of public interest and public affairs, those which are not related to the above, but involving the marital relationships of the parties to a litigation should not be published or telecast, as it is prohibited under law. Publication of the proceedings meant to be in cameral will affect the constitutional liberty guaranteed to the individual and it would be an invasion of his/her right of privacy.
"The expression "any matter in relation to any such proceeding" should be given the widest import and it has to be given full effect to, when it is read in conjunction with the words "every proceeding" occurring in the beginning of the section. Considering the scope of the Act, i.e., Hindu Marriage Act, which governs marriage between the Hindus, relief of divorce and Judicial separation, alimony, temporary or permanent, the lis being purely inter-se, reading of the Section in its entirety in its context, reflect the intention of the legislation, primarily sought to be achieved. The language employed in Section is plain and unambiguous and it covers every proceeding under the Act."
The court also advised media to focus more on matters of public interest rather than invading into the privacy of individuals. The court said:
"Media attention should be towards exposing corruption, nepotism, law breaking, abuse or arbitrary exercise of power, law and order, economy, health, science and technology etc., which are matters of public interest. The "Lakshman Rekha" or the "line of control", should be that the publication of comments/information should not invade into the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by bona fide and genuine public interest. Right of information is a facet of freedom of speech and expression, enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Right of Information has been recognised as a Fundamental Right and the Right of Press to furnish the information or facts or opinion should be only to foster public interest and not to encroach upon the privacy of an individual. The public at large has no fundamental or legal right to get any information or intrude into the personal life of the other individual. Statutes empower the authorities to examine the parties, under exceptional circumstances, contained therein. When the public at large has no legal right to impinge upon the marital privacy, the press or any other media cannot claim a better right to publish in newspaper, magazine or any other form of media, in exercise of freedom of speech and expression."
Allowing the plea, the bench further added:
"What is an information to others according to a journalist, could be a personal and sensitive information to an individual in a litigation relating to a matrimonial dispute. The boundary between freedom of press and privacy of individual is the "Lakshman Rekha" and if the media, crosses the line of boundary, the invasion starts."