• Virender Singh

Stop press: On blanket gag order against the media{PDF}

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

Courts must avoid OMNIBUS orders against publication without actual risk of PREJUDICE

A blanket GAG ORDER against the media is often FRAUGHT with serious consequences for both free speech and the citizen’s right to receive information. Orders by different courts, RESTRAINING the media from reporting on particular cases or programmes from being telecast, have drawn attention this week to questions of prior restraint, media freedom and the right of people facing investigation to a fair trial. A quite unusual and legally questionable decision has been the INTERIM order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court IMPOSING a ban on the media, and even social media, from mentioning anything in relation to an FIR filed by the police against a former Advocate General of the State and others. It is unusual in the sense that there appears to be no material to justify such censorship other than an ALLEGATION by the PETITIONER that it is a “FOISTED” case. It is also accompanied by an order staying the investigation itself. It is indeed open to a High Court to grant a stay on investigation in extraordinary cases. When political vendetta is alleged against the government of the day, that too by someone who had served a previous REGIME as a law officer, the need for media coverage and public SCRUTINY is all the greater. How the petitioner would benefit from the complete absence of any reportage is unclear. It PREVENTS legitimate comment even to the effect that there is no substance in the allegations.

INJUNCTIONS against publication can either be an order to prevent possible DEFAMATION or INVASION of privacy, or one aimed at protecting the fairness of a trial or investigation. The Supreme Court did hold in Sahara vs. SEBI (2012) that the Court can grant preventive relief on a balancing of the right to free trial and a free press. However, it favoured such temporary restraint on publication “only in cases of real and substantial risk of prejudice” to the administration of justice or a fair trial. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, on the same day, passed a more important interim order stopping the telecast of the remaining episodes of a series on Sudarshan News on entirely different grounds. Holding that the programme — four episodes were aired — was nothing but VILIFICATION of Muslims, the Court found it necessary to interdict the telecast of more episodes. The Court seems to have made a DISTINCTION between freedom of expression and PROPAGATION of hate. In recent years, there have been quite a few instances, especially in Karnataka, of omnibus INTERIM injunctions against all media houses obtained by some people solely to prevent any news reporting about themselves. While claiming to be defamed by one publication, they SUE all media outlets and obtain open-ended stay on publications, including those that are hardly interested in writing about them. As a matter of principle, courts ought to avoid omnibus orders against publication. Such orders are often to the DETRIMENT of the right to know.

Meanings of Words/Phrases in bold

1. OMNIBUS(n)-including many things or different types of thingsअनेक वस्तुओं का संग्रह या विभिन्न प्रकार की वस्तुओं का संग्रह; संग्रहात्मक

2. PREJUDICE(n)-a strong unreasonable feeling of not liking or trusting somebody/something, especially when it is based on his/her/its race, religion or sex

3. GAG ORDER (phrase)-a judge's directive forbidding the public disclosure of information on a particular matter.

4. FRAUGHT(adj)-filled with something unpleasantअरुचिकर बातों से परिपूर्ण

5. RESTRAINING(v)-to keep somebody or something under control; to prevent somebody or something from doing something

6. INTERIM(adj)-not final or lasting; temporary until somebody/something more permanent is foundजो अंतिम या स्‍थायी नहीं

7. IMPOSING(adj)-big and important; impressiveबड़ा और महत्वपूर्ण; प्रभावशाली

8. ALLEGATION(n)-affirmation. an assertion made with little or no proof. an assertion made by a party in a legal proceeding

9. PETITIONER(n)-a person who presents a petition to an authority in respect of a particular cause

10. FOISTED(v)-impose an unwelcome or unnecessary person or thing on.

11. REGIME(n)-a method or system of government, especially one that has not been elected in a fair wayशासनप्रणाली या व्‍यवस्‍था (विशेषतः ऐसी जो निष्‍पक्ष रूप से निर्वाचित नहीं)

12. SCRUTINY(formal)-being carefully examined especially in a critical way

13. PREVENTS(v)-to stop something happening or to stop somebody doing something

14. INJUNCTIONS(n)-an official order from a court of law to do/not do somethingविधि-निषेध के विषय में न्‍यायालय का औपचारिक आदेश; समादेश, निषेधाज्ञा

15. DEFAMATION(n)-the oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation and usually constitutes a tort or crime

16. INVASION(n)-the action of entering a place where you are not wanted and disturbing somebodyअवांछित रूप से किसी स्‍थान पर प्रवेश

17. VILIFICATION(n)-to utter slanderous and abusive statements against : defame

18. DISTINCTION(n)-a clear or important difference between things or peopleव्‍यक्तियों या वस्‍तुओं के बीच में स्‍पष्‍ट या सार्थक अंतर

19. PROPAGATION(n)-the spreading of something (such as a belief) abroad or into new regions. c : enlargement or extension (as of a crack) in a solid body.

20. SUE(v)-to institute a process in law against; bring a civil action against

21. DETRIMENT(n)-an undesirable or harmful person or thing.

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