After the Election Commission’s petition complaining about media reports, The Supreme Court on Thursday said that the Constitutional authorities can do better than to complain and ask for fetters on the media.
The Election Commission filed a complaint last week alleging what it called “blatantly disparaging remarks” and said the media should be stopped from reporting observations. It also said it was the government under the Disaster Management Authority that had to manage the rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister (E Palaniswami) and “they committed the breach”
“Article 19 does not give the right to freedom of speech and expression only to people but also confers this right to the media. It would be retrograde for the Supreme Court to gag media,” the Supreme Court said.
“We find no substance in the prayer of EC to restrain media from reporting court proceedings. It is essential to hold the judiciary accountable.”
The Justice DY Chandrachud-led bench did say the remarks made by the Madras High Court were “harsh and the metaphor improper” and judicial restraint was necessary.
“There is a need for judicial restraint for off-the-cuff remarks which is open for misinterpretation. Judicial language is important for constitutional ethos. The power of judicial review is so high that it forms a basic structure,” the top court observed. The Election Commission had been conducting free and fair polls, it added.
However, the High Court was faced with rising Covid cases and the task of protecting the lives and liberty of people, the court said.
“Open access to courts is a valuable safeguard to constitutional freedom. Freedom of the press is a facet of constitutional freedom of speech and expression,” said the Supreme Court.
The Madras High Court on April 26 said the Election Commission “should probably be booked for murder” for allowing crowded election campaigns and was “singularly responsible” for the current Covid spike. But these observations did not make it to the final order, which said “at no cost can counting become a catalyst for a further surge”.
Reverting to the petition filed by EC, The Supreme Court also said: “Something is observed in the larger public interest. The Election Commission should treat it as a bitter pill in the right spirit.”