Media, judiciary barriers crumble

BY IANS| IN Media Practice | 30/03/2008
Fifteen apex court judges participated in a workshop attended by over 100 court reporters from all over the country.

The "traditional unseen barriers" between the judiciary and media appeared to be crumbling, thanks to a first-ever workshop conducted by the Supreme Court at the initiative of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan.


In the two-day workshop that ended on March 30, the judges of the apex court left their lofty perch to freely interact with the "constabulary of court reporters", acknowledging their role in spreading the legal awareness through their news reports on court proceedings.


"The Workshop on Reporting Court Proceedings by Media and Administration of Justice" that began Saturday also gave the apex court judges - "trained to speak only through their judgements" - and the reporters an opportunity for direct dialogue between them on the issues of mutual concerns.


The workshop was attended by over 100 court reporters from all over the country, besides the government¿s top law officers, senior counsel, and eminent journalists.


The issues that cropped up for discussion ranged from "bad acoustic in court rooms, forcing reporters to resort to the lip reading of judges to decipher what they said in their orders" to the grave issues like "the courts¿ awesome power under contempt laws, often coming in clash with media¿s right of free speech and expression".


Why can¿t the Supreme Court judges write shorter judgements, rather than those often running into 80 to 100 pages or even up to 500 pages at times, the reporters often asked to the judges, during the two days¿ workshop.


And the judges refrain would often be: "But why can¿t a reporter in his story on, say, the bail granted to a rape accused, explain the basic reason behind the grant of bail, possibly the police¿s failure in completing the probe in time and filing its probe report to the court within mandatory 90-day period?"


The judges appeared most wary of reportage on their observations. They often rued: "Is it a must for reporters to report the tentative observations made by judges in court rooms while hearing a matter?"


But the court reporters, swearing by what they called their professional rights and duties, would candidly submit to the judges: "If judges are so wary of the reports on their observation, why do they make it at all?"


Though many of the hundreds of such questions that came up during the two-day workshop from the two sides defied instant and definite answers, the workshop saw "the unseen barrier between the media and judiciary crumbing", observed Press Council of India¿s secretary Vibha Bhargava in her concluding remarks Sunday.

The workshop saw the participation of over 15 of the apex court judges, and many of them, including Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, favoured the idea of first-hand interaction between judges of the higher judiciary and members of the media.


"Is interacting with media a sin? I think there is none," said Justice Bhandari, suggesting occasional interaction between reporters and judges.


But "trained to speak only through their judgements", some of the judges disclosed that they have never interacted with journalists in their long career, often spanning two decades, and they vowed they prefer the old tradition.


But Chief Justice Balakrishnan had no such inhibition. "When I was to take over as the chief justice, some of my well-wishers told me not to interact with the media. But I do not subscribe to that view," said the chief justice, who takes a personal interest in making available facilities to reporters covering the apex court.


The two-day workshop was organised by the Supreme Court in association with the Editors Guild of India, the Press Council, the Indian Law Institute and the Supreme Court¿s Legal Services Committee.


This was the first time that the judiciary and the media interacted on issues concerning reportage of court proceedings.


In around eight sessions, spread over two days the workshop discussed issues such as contempt of court, reporting of matters that are sub-judice, use and abuse of freedom of the press, trial by the media, development of a self executing code, and professional ethics in reporting.



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