SC quashes ban on media one

Context: Court lifts telecast ban on Malayalam channel Media One; says unguided and ad hoc use of sealed covers infringes natural justice and open justice.

More on news: The Supreme Court rapped the government for silencing voices in the media who “speak truth to power” by branding them “anti-establishment”, as well as for the state’s “unguided and ad hoc” use of sealed covers in courts to outsmart citizens’ rights to personal liberty, life and profession.

Observations of Supreme Court

  • The critical views about government policies cannot be termed anti-establishment. The use of such a terminology betrays an expectation that the Press must support the establishment.
  • An independent Press is vital for the robust functioning of the democratic republic. 
  • The Press has a duty to speak truth to power and present citizens with hard facts.
  • A homogenised view on issues that range from socio-economic polity to political ideologies will present grave dangers to democracy.
  • State’s “unguided and ad hoc” use of sealed covers in courts to outsmart citizens’ rights to personal liberty, life and profession.

Public interest immunity (PII) 

  • Though recognising the top court’s power to “secure confidential material in a sealed cover” under Rule 7 of the Supreme Court Rules of 2013, the CJI noted that the state’s frequent reliance on sealed covers to validate its actions in courts had reduced constitutional rights and procedural guarantees of a fair hearing under the law to a “dry parchment”.
  • The Supreme Court then evolved the “less restrictive” public interest immunity (PII) claims proceedings as an “alternative” to the sealed cover proceedings while dealing with state requests for confidentiality.
  • Under the alternative PII proceedings, the court would test the relevance of the material the state desires to be kept confidential in ‘public interest’. The court would appoint an amicus curiae in order to “balance the concerns of confidentiality with the need to preserve public confidence in the objectivity of the justice delivery system”.
  • Though the PII proceedings would be a “closed sitting”, a reasoned order, allowing or dismissing the PII claim of the state, should be pronounced in open court. Even if the PII claim is successful, the court could opt to redact confidential portions of the document or provide both parties with a summary of the contents of the documents.
  • While PII claims proceedings conceivably impacts the principles of natural justice, sealed cover proceedings infringe the principles of natural justice and open justice

Right to life, liberty and profession Vs Confidentiality 

  • SC questioned the government’s view that it could investigate or collect intelligence on citizens and later claim blanket immunity from disclosure in court.
  • SC observed that “Intelligence agencies’ reports impact the life, liberty and profession of individuals and entities, and to give such reports absolute immunity from disclosure is antithetical to a transparent and accountable system.
  • SC reasoned that the argument that intelligence reports may contain confidential information is one thing, but to argue that all such reports are confidential is another. Such an argument is misplaced and cannot be accepted on the touchstone of constitutional values.

Principle of natural Justice

Principles of natural justice refer to the basic principles that are required to be followed while making a decision or taking any action. These principles aim to ensure that the decision-making process is fair, unbiased, and transparent. The following are the key principles of natural justice:

  • Audi alteram partem – The right to be heard: This principle means that both parties should be given a fair opportunity to present their case before a decision is made. It also includes the right to cross-examine witnesses and evidence.
  • Nemo judex in causa sua – No one should be a judge in his own cause: This principle requires that the decision-maker should be impartial and not have any personal interest or bias in the matter.
  • Impartiality: The decision-maker should be unbiased and impartial towards the parties involved in the decision-making process. The decision should be based solely on the facts and evidence presented before them.
  • Natural justice demands that a person should be informed of the charges against them and should have the opportunity to respond to those charges.
  • The decision should be based on relevant and admissible evidence.
  • The decision should be communicated in writing and should include the reasons for the decision.
  • Bias: Any actual or perceived bias on the part of the decision-maker can render the decision invalid.
  • The decision should be proportionate and reasonable.
  • Confidentiality: The decision-making process should be confidential to protect the privacy of the parties involved.
  • Evidence: Only admissible evidence should be considered while making a decision.

Principle of open justice 

Open justice is the principle that legal proceedings should be open and transparent to the public. It is a fundamental principle of the legal system in many countries and is considered essential to the rule of law. The following are the key aspects of open justice:

  • Public access to court proceedings: Open justice requires that court proceedings are open to the public, unless there are compelling reasons to restrict access. This means that anyone can attend court hearings and access court documents, subject to certain restrictions, such as protecting the privacy of vulnerable witnesses.
  • Transparency: Open justice also requires that court proceedings are conducted in a transparent manner, with the reasons for the court’s decisions being explained to the parties involved and the public. This includes providing written judgments and reasons for decisions, which should be made available to the public.
  • Accountability: Open justice promotes accountability, by allowing the public to see how decisions are made and how justice is administered. This can help to maintain public confidence in the legal system and ensure that judges and other decision-makers are held accountable for their actions.
  • Fairness: Open justice promotes fairness, by ensuring that all parties to a legal proceeding have an equal opportunity to present their case and that the decision-making process is conducted in an impartial and transparent manner.
  • Media access: Open justice also allows the media to report on court proceedings, subject to certain restrictions, such as protecting the privacy of vulnerable witnesses. This allows the public to be informed about legal proceedings and helps to promote accountability and transparency.
  • Exceptions: Although open justice is a fundamental principle of the legal system, there are some exceptions, such as cases involving national security, confidential information, or the privacy of vulnerable individuals. In such cases, restrictions on public access may be necessary to protect the interests of justice.

Overall, open justice is an essential principle of the legal system, promoting transparency, accountability, and fairness. It helps to ensure that the legal system is accessible to all and that justice is administered in a transparent and impartial manner.

Mains Practice Question

What are the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to lift the telecast ban on Malayalam channel Media One and its observations on the use of sealed covers in courts and the importance of an independent press for the functioning of a democratic republic? (250 words)

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