The Supreme Court Monday issued notice to the Central Government on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking the constitution of a “Media Tribunal” to adjudicate on complaints against the Media/Broadcasting Channels/Networks filed by the viewers or citizens and to enforce the Programme Code and Cable Network Act.
Notice has been issued by a bench led by CJI SA Bobde. Besides the Centre, notice has also been sent to the Press Council of India (PCI), News Broadcasters Association (NBA), News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) and Press Trust Of India (PTI).
The plea filed by Nilesh Navalakha and Nitin Memane also sought a direction to constitute an independent high powered committee headed by a retired Chief Justice or judge of the Supreme Court or a high court and consisting of distinguished persons from different fields as well as concerned stakeholders of the official respondents to scrutinize and review the entire legal framework relating to media-business relations and recommend appropriate guidelines to be laid down by the court.
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It clarified that it did not seek to curb the fundamental rights of the media business, but only bring about some accountability for misinformation, inflammatory coverage, fake news, breach of privacy, etc. which they had indulged in, only with the aim to further their business, and to bring in consequences for acting in a fashion contrary to constitutional goals and morality.
“It is submitted the exercise of power by the electronic media without any accountability is severely detrimental to the due process of law, and contrary to the rule of law”, the plea said.
It stated that over the last few years, media trials, hate speech, propaganda news, paid news, had become the order of the day, impeding the right to a fair trial and the right to fair and proportionate reporting.
“It is submitted that reckless reportage by the electronic media without accountability can, by no stretch of imagination, be read into the right to freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the electronic media”, the plea read.
It asserted that the electronic media had become like an “unruly horse”, which needed to be tamed.
The plea alleged that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Union of India, being the nodal ministry had failed in the discharge of its duties, in implementing the undertaking given by electronic media broadcasters to comply with the Programme Code in Rule 6 of the Cable Television Rules, 1994.
Petitioners Navalakha and Memane are filmmaker and civil engineer respectively.
The plea has been filed through Advocate-on-Record Amit Pai.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.