CJI For Guidelines For Journalists

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New Delhi, Mar 29 (UNI) With courts under increasing media attention, India's Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan today suggested having ''guidelines'' for journalists, asserting that ''freedom of expression... is not a sole aim of society.'' ''Though the freedom of expression is essential to democratic society,'' Justice Balakrishnan said opening a workshop on court reporting, ''it is not a sole aim of society.'' He underscored ''other values such as public order, justice, equality and other moral progress of the society as a whole,'' which ''there is a need to promote.'' Justice Balakrishnan voiced hope that participants would ''come out with guidelines that would be most valuable to journalists while reporting'' and enhance citizens' access to information on the Indian justice system.

The Workshop on Reporting Court Proceedings by Media and Administration of Justice for Legal Correspondents / Journalists is being held amid growing media interest in what goes on in courts.

Indian courts are backlogged, with close to 30 million cases pending, many for years, even decades, essentially implying that rule of law, as some may understand it, must wait its turn.

To boot, while experts advocate a three-or-four-fold increase in the number of judges-- currently around 14,000-- vacancies abound even in the meagre strengths in place.

Such contradictions may ordinarily mean little to a lay citizen, but they end up impacting his or her life, liberty and interests, when cases go on and on.

As Justice Balakrishnan put it, ''about 10 or 15 years back, the media was not paying much attention to the court proceedings though the decisions given by the courts had a far reaching effect on the life, liberty and rights of the people.'' He said media's role ''has radically changed and it greatly helped the common man to understand the nature and contents of our judicial proceedings.'' He said the workshop was a unique experiment ''by which we wanted to inculcate some ideas to some of our young talented representatives of the Print and Electronic Media.'' The workshop, co-organised by Indian Law Institute and National Legal Services Authority co-supported by Press Council of India and Editors' Guild, was attended by several Supreme Court judges and lawyers and journalists, including reporters covering courts.

Participants included Justices Arijit Pasayat and S H Kapadia, ILI officials, Council chairman G N Ray, The Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta and Guild president Alok Mehta.

Justice Balakrishnan recalled how the proponents of freedom of expression thought that if there is a freedom of trade in the market of ideas, truth will grapple with falsehood and truth will prevail ultimately.

''Truth was always considered to be on encounter with error and became victorious in that encounter,'' he said, adding that ''it was assumed that freedom of expression may be relied on to supply true facts to people because false facts will soon be discovered and discredited.

But Justice Balakrishnan went on to say that ''though the freedom of expression is essential to democratic society, it is not a sole aim of society. In the social and political aspect freedom of expression is primarily a process or a method for reaching other goals.

''It is a basic element in a democratic way of life and as a vital process it shapes and determines ends of democratic society.

''Any theory of freedom of expression must, therefore, take into account other values such as public order, justice, equality and other moral progress of the society as a whole and there is a need to promote these ideas.

''It is through the media that the citizens are reassured that the various arms of the State are performing their roles as per their Constitutional obligations.

''It is also the media that often helps in conveying the expectations of the citizens.

''Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that in India, a substantially large percentage of news content today is related to the functioning of the Indian legal machinery and its implications. Therefore, the importance of this workshop cannot be understated.'' Justice Balakrishnan said media has been ''very efficient, factual and... searching,'' but not without ''some inadvertent errors'' that ''seep in periodically perhaps due to systemic difficulties.'' ''I am certain that even the media appreciates that such errors may inadvertently impede the functioning of the judiciary as they often tend to lead to unnecessary confusion amongst the public.'' Justice Balakrishnan acknowledged ''that a judge must only speak through her or his judgements.'' But he said ''in a democratic system all of us are committed to and zealously guard the citizen's right to information which is also at the root of effective administration of justice.'' Justice Balakrishnan reiterated ''the judiciary's commitment to bringing all aspects of the administration of justice closer to each and every citizen.

''Undoubtedly, such a task cannot be accomplished without cooperation and synergy with the media. I am hopeful that this workshop will be able to lead us in bridging that gap.'' UNI MJ GL VC1950

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