23 March 2023 3:45 AM GMT
The Chief Justice of India on Wednesday raised alarm about the ‘selective’ quoting' of judges’ speeches and judgements by the media leading to a distorted public understanding of important legal issues. While noting the rise in legal journalism and the increasing interest in stories emerging from the court halls, the chief justice expressed concerns about ‘one-sided’ reporting...
The Chief Justice of India on Wednesday raised alarm about the ‘selective’ quoting' of judges’ speeches and judgements by the media leading to a distorted public understanding of important legal issues. While noting the rise in legal journalism and the increasing interest in stories emerging from the court halls, the chief justice expressed concerns about ‘one-sided’ reporting in the newly developing field.
Delivering the keynote address at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards organised by the Indian Express in collaboration with the Ramnath Goenka Foundation, Justice Chandrachud said:
“We are witnessing a rising interest in legal journalism. Legal journalists are the storytellers of the justice system, shedding light on the complexities of the law. However, selective quoting of speeches and judgements of judges by journalists in India has become a matter of concern. This practice has a tendency to distort the public understanding of important legal issues. Judges’ decisions are often complex and nuanced and selective quoting can give the impression that a judgment means something entirely different from what the judge actually intended. It is thus essential for journalists to provide a complete picture of events rather than presenting a one-sided view. They have a duty to report accurately and impartially.”
The Chief Justice also observed that journalists and judges shared a common belief in the aphorism that the pen is mightier than the sword. Not only this, but they also share the ‘occupational hazard’ of being disliked by virtue of their professions. “This is no easy cross to bear,” Justice Chandrachud confessed, “My judicial clerks have been telling me in recent times that I have been added to the list, that I better not scroll down on Twitter.” He laughed at this personal revelation, before optimistically adding that members of both the professions relentlessly kept at their daily tasks and hoped that one day the reputations of their professions would receive a makeover.
“There is a strong need to bridge the gap between the truth and the lie,” Justice Chandrachud further said, while speaking about unbiased and non-partisan journalism. He spoke at length about the alarming phenomenon of ‘fake news’, which threatened the independence and impartiality of journalism as an institution. He firmly said, “It is the collective responsibility of journalists as well as other stakeholders to weed out any element of bias or prejudice from the process of reporting events.” Then, he proceeded to recommend the installation of a ‘comprehensive fact checking mechanism’ to verify all news before reporting. The Supreme Court judge added:
“Media houses are expected to act cautiously while publishing news because fake news can guide or misguide millions of people at once. This is in direct contradiction with the fundamentals of democracy which form the bedrock of our existence. Across the globe, fake news has a capability to create tensions between communities by misleading people. Therefore, to protect the democratic values of fraternity which can be damaged, if not destroyed, through biased reporting, there is a strong need to bridge the gap between the truth and the lie.”
In this connection, Justice Chandrachud also highlighted the problem of ‘media trials’ where despite there existing a presumption of innocence in the criminal justice machinery, the media has weaved a narrative that has effectively rendered the accused guilty in the eyes of the public even before a court of law can deliver its verdict. “This can have long-lasting repercussions on the lives of affected individuals as well as on the process of law,” the judge said, citing the Madrid Principles on the Relationship between the Media and Judicial Independence. This set of principles strongly affirmed the responsibility of the media to convey information to the public and to comment on the administration of justice before, during, and after trial, without violating the presumption of innocence, the chief justice explained. On responsible journalism, he said:
“Responsible journalism is the beacon of truth that guides us to a better tomorrow. It is the engine that drives democracy forward based on the quest for truth, justice, and equality. As we navigate the challenges of the digital age, it is more important than ever for journalists to maintain standards of accuracy, impartiality, responsibility, and fearlessness in their reporting. That is the truth and that is what Ramnath Goenka stood for, which is why we pay our homage to him with these awards.”
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