Observing that the media “must report fully” what happens in court, the Supreme Court on Monday said that reporting by the media brings accountability and showed that judges were dispensing their duties fully, thus fostering citizens confidence in the judicial process.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah while hearing an appeal by the Election Commission (EC), which had complained about being “castigated without any evidence” by the Madras High Court last week, said that “something is observed in the larger public interest. The EC should treat it as a bitter pill in the right spirit.”
“We cannot expect the media not to report dialogues. Oral observations are as important as judicial orders. Unfolding of process of judicial thinking is equally of interest to the public. The unfolding of debate in the court is equally important and media has a duty to report. It’s not only our judgements that are significant,” the judges told the EC to take the HC’s comment in the right spirit.
The apex court, however, said that the HC comment was quite strong but must have been made out of anguish and frustration. Calling this plea “far-fetched”, the SC said that did not want to “demoralise” the high courts as they are vital pillars of the democracy, and the various critical remarks are often said in an open dialogue. The top court also reserved its order on the EC’s appeal against the Madras HC’s scathing remarks.
Coming down heavily on the EC for “not stopping political parties” from violating Covid protocols during their campaign rallies for assembly polls in four states and a Union Territory, the HC had on April 26 said that that the EC was singularly responsible for a second wave in the country and its officials should probably be tried on murder charges for allowing political parties to hold massive rallies without following Covid-19 norms.
Justice Chandrachud assured the EC that it would try to balance the situation but it cannot ask the HC judges not to make comments beyond the pleadings. Sometimes, judges say certain things in larger public interest, he said, adding that “the observations by the judges are momentary while what leaves its footprints on sands of time is the written order.”
“What I am saying is not to belittle ECI. Democracy survives only when institutions are strengthened,” Justice Chandrachud said. Senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for EC, argued that the media should not report the oral observations which did not form part of the final order. The HC’s “unwarranted and disparaging” remarks had damaged the poll body’s reputation, he contended.
The EC also pointed at the role of the government, saying the latter had often shifted the responsibility of enforcing Covid safety rules to the election body. Dwivedi also told the SC said that it was the government under the Disaster Management Authority that had to manage the rallies of the Prime Minister and the TN Chief Minister.