Legal journalists seek freedom to observe and report live streaming of court proceedings
A group of legal journalists have moved to the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking permission to report court proceedings while asserting that it was their fundamental right to attend, observe, transcribe and report matters of general public importance.
Journalists Nupur Thapliyal, Sparsh Upadhyay, Areeb Uddin Ahmed and Rahul Dubey have challenged the MP Video Conferencing & Audio-Visual Electronic Linkage Rules, 2020 vide a petition filed on their behalf by Advocate Manu Maheshwari citing difficulties the media encounters in real-time reporting.
"That the journalists and media persons are allowed to attend the hearings only on a 'specific order' issued by the 'concerned Court', which means that if an order is not issued by the concerned Court, then the journalist like the petitioners cannot attend the proceedings and they always risk adverse action being instituted against them for attending the said proceedings unauthorized," the petition states.
Under the impugned rules, only Advocates engaged in the case are permitted to appear and plead before the Court during virtual hearings. Any other person, who does not fall within the definition of a required person or has no direct relationship with the case, is completely barred from attending the video conference proceedings.
The petition further states that journalists are forced to join virtual proceedings with proxy/pseudo names because if any person specifies his actual name, then the moment the Court or the technical staff detects his/her presence, due to operation of impugned rules they are immediately disconnected/eliminated from the virtual proceedings.
The petition further states that any rule which compels, coerces and forces any journalist, media person or a litigant to do away with his identity, while attending the Court proceeding is itself constitutionally viscous and cannot withstand the scrutiny of basic precepts of a transparent, visible and accessible judicial system of any democratic country like India.
"It leads and perpetrates autocracy, opacity, wherein the subjects are afraid of disclosing their name and identity, lest they shall be excluded from the virtual audience right away," the petition state.
An interim relief has also been sought for live streaming of all the proceedings relating to and arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic, being heard by the various Benches of the High Court on an immediate basis.
The Petitioners have relied on the case of Swapnil Tripathi & Ors. v. Supreme Court of India & Ors., whereby the Supreme Court had decided to live-stream Court proceedings in the larger public interest.
The petition points out that pursuant to the Apex Court judgment the High Courts of Kerala, Bombay, Gujarat and Madras have also adopted live-streaming of Court proceedings.
The petition also refers to a recent ruling of the Apex Court in which it had dismissed the Election Commission's plea to restrain media from reporting the oral remarks of judges.
"The live transmission and streaming of Covid-19 matters shall ensure public faith in the phenomenal efforts of this Court in handling the various issues arising out of the handling of the pandemic by State Government, but shall also keep the executive severely under the check of what it says before the Court and what it does in action on the field," the petition avers.