Contempt case against the media

Print edition : January 03, 2003

ON December 5, a full Bench of the Karnataka High Court, comprising Justices T.S. Thakur, H.L. Dattu and V.G. Sabhahit, suo motu initiated criminal contempt of court proceedings against 56 persons from 14 newspapers and magazines for reportage that "scandalised the image of the judiciary".

The reporting pertained to a recent "sex scandal" at a resort in Mysore, in which a group of High Court judges were allegedly involved.

The respondents to the contempt notice included the editors, printers, publishers and reporters of The Times of India, The New Indian Express, The Hindu, The Deccan Herald and The Hindustan Times (English dailies); Kannada Prabha, Prajavani, Vijaya Karnataka and Udayavani (Kannada dailies); Lankesh Patrike, Agni, Nota (Kannada periodicals); and The Week and Outlook (English weeklies). The court ordered that emergency notices be issued to them asking them to show cause why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against them under Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, and why they should not be punished according to the law. The suo motu proceedings were initiated following a note put up by the Registrar-General of the High Court, in which he submitted that the "scurrilous, scandalous allegations by the respondents are grossly contumacious and bring the entire administration of justice to disrepute". Further hearing on the case has been adjourned to January 8, 2002.

The sweeping contempt proceedings evoked a swift and sharp reaction from the Editors' Guild of India (EGI). Urging the Karnataka High Court to review its decision, Editors Guild president Hari Jaising termed as "unfortunate and uncalled for" the attempt to put curbs on the media using the provisions of the "antiquated" Contempt of Court Act. The statement by the EGI pointed to the "increasing signs of intolerance and insensitivity to the people's right to information in the polity, the judiciary included". While affirming the high esteem in which the Guild held the judiciary, the question at hand did not pertain to "who was right and who was wrong", they held. What the Guild did expect was for the "judiciary to find its own answers to correct its functional aberrations, if any. The present issue should not be seen as a matter of prestige".

News of an alleged "sex-scandal", which occurred on November 3 in a private resort in Mysore, in which senior Judges of the Karnataka High Court were allegedly involved, figured prominently in sections of the national and regional media, with even the names and photographs of the Judges. Media reports on the issue have caused a furore in the State.

An inquiry committee appointed by N.K. Jain, Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, in mid-November did not come up with any findings confirming the incident. Chief Justice of India G.B. Pattanaik then sent the three "tainted" Judges transfer proposals, which triggered protests by lawyers from the States to which they were asked to go. The Chief Justice then appointed an inquiry committee comprising C.K. Thakkar, Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court; Jawahar Lal Gupta, Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court; and A.K. Patnaik, a senior Judge of the Orissa High Court. The Committee visited Mysore and Bangalore on a fact-finding mission on December 14 and December 15 and its report is awaited.

Parvathi Menon

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