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GS-II :

Stop press: On blanket gag order against the media

  • 17 September, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

Stop press: On blanket gag order against the media

Context:

  • The interim order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court imposing a ban on the mainstream media and social media from mentioning anything in relation to an FIR filed by the police against a former Advocate General of the State and others.
  • In recent years, there have been quite a few instances of interim injunctions against all media houses obtained by the petitioner solely to prevent any news reporting about them. Such orders by the courts restrain the media from reporting on particular cases or people.
  • While claiming to be defamed by one publication, they have been able to obtain open-ended stays on publications.

Arguments against:

  • A blanket gag order against the media has serious consequences for both free speech and media freedom on one side and the common citizen’s right to know or right to receive information on the other.
  • This also raises important questions of prior restraint on media publication.
  • The blanket ban on media publications even without examining their content goes against the spirit of previous judgments of the SC which have held that pre-broadcast or pre-publication censorship is not tenable and that all grievances against objectionable content should be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land after its publication.
  • This observation helps uphold the right of the media as enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression.
  • Such blanket bans limit media coverage and the consequent public scrutiny.

Arguments in favour:

  • Injunctions against publication could help prevent possible defamation or invasion of privacy and could also help protect the fairness of a trial or investigation in genuine cases.
  • This could avoid the concerns associated with a media trial.

Way forward:

  • As a matter of principle, courts must avoid blanket orders against publication.
  • The Supreme Court Judgment in the Sahara vs. SEBI (2012) case can act as an important guiding point for the judiciary in this direction.
  • As per the judgment, the Court can grant preventive relief on a balancing of the right to free trial and a free press.
  • However, such temporary restraint on publication must only be favoured in cases of real and substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice or a fair trial.

Source: TH

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