By Shekhar Engti
The contempt of court law is one of the important ethics of media. It is a piece of law which should be kept in mind by the media as a whole. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, which was amended in 2006, is still a great one for media.
The law as such has two distinct aspects: (a) civil contempt and (b) crimil contempt. But as for the media, it has mainly been concerned with crimil contempt. Section 2(c) of the Act, crimil contempt, means the publication, whether by words, spoken or written or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise of any matter or any other act whatsoever which (i) scandalizes or tends to scandalize or lower or anything that tends to lower the authority of any court or (ii) prejudices or interferes or tend to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding or (iii) interferes or tends to interfere with expression.
Though Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution does not specifically relates to as such guarantee to all citizens of India, the Supreme Court has intervened in this regard to give specific interpretation to the effect that Article 19(1)(a) can be made relevant directly to the freedom of press. As such, subsequent judgments of the Supreme Court have ensured that the media is protected with constitutiol guarantees and attempt to interfere with it is seen as an infringement of the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression.
This constitutiol provision was interpreted in a way by the courts to widen its scope to distinctly include freedom of press and its importance to the idea of a democratic republic.
The media is concerned with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which guarantees to all right of freedom of speech and expression. But Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution does not specifically relates to media as such and is a guarantee to all citizens of India. The Supreme Court has intervened in this regard to give specific interpretation to the effect that Article 19(1)(a) is protected with constitutiol guarantees and any attempt to interfere with its functioning is seen as an infringement of the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression. This constitutiol guarantee was interpreted in a way by the courts to widen its speech to distinctly include freedom of the press and its importance to idea of democratic republic.
But the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 is still hard pressed of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizen. The law is seen as an infringement on the liberty of press in certain cases. The liberty guaranteed is not to be conferred with license to make unfounded, unwarranted and irresponsible aspersions against the judges or the courts in relation to judicial matters. The law helps ward off offensive, intimidatory or malicious attack on the judges by way of wild allegations of corruption of judicial officers or authorities. The important point is that press reporters and publishers of newspapers do not have any indefensible right to put their own gloss on the statement in the court by selecting stray passages out of context which might have a tendency to convey to the reader to the prejudice of a party to the proceeding of a cause different from what would appear when the statement is read in its own context.
However, Section 3 of the Act exempts innocent publication and distribution of matter. As it is stated, a person shall not be guilty of contempt of court on the ground that he has published (whether by words spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise) any matter which interferes or tends to interfere with or obstructs or tends to obstruct the court of justice in connection with any civil or crimil proceeding pending at the time of publication, if at that time he had no reasoble grounds for believing that the proceeding was pending. Similarly Section 4 of the Act exempts fair and accurate reporting pending in the court. In other words, it is safe to report a judicial proceeding in a fair and honest manner. Section 5 of the Act very clearly specifies a fair criticism of judgment as long as it does not attribute motives or slandering the judge does not amount to contempt.