Has the Media Boycott of Kerala High Court Diamond Jubilee Celebrations Added Fuel to the Fire?
Media persons’ boycott of the diamond jubilee celebrations of Kerala High Court and inauguration of District Court Complex has added fuel to the already existing unrest between lawyers and the media in the State over the past couple of months. The celebrations, which were inaugurated by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and presided over by Supreme Court Judges Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Kurian Joseph, Justice Chellameshwar, were not attended by the media fraternity.
The Regional Committee of the Indian Newspaper Society and the Kerala Television Federation had also written an open letter to Chief Justice Thakur, appealing him to resolve the hiccups between media persons and lawyers in the State. Excerpts from the letter that explain the take of media in the issue are given below:
“While welcoming you to Kerala on this occasion, we are saddened to inform you that a huge blot left by a section of the judiciary has blurred the transparency of the judicial process even as grand preparations for the diamond jubilee celebrations are on. A series of sad incidents – stemming from the reportage of senior government pleader Dhanesh Mathew Manjooran’s misbehaviour with a woman at a crowded Kochi street – have cast a slur on this synergy. But a highly slanderous campaign, tarnishing women journalists, especially by putting up flex boards with their photographs, has been unleashed to demoralize us more. The situation has come to such a pass that advocates are threatened not to represent media houses when their legal issues come before various courts. In effect, apart from being prevented from discharging our Constitutional rights granted under the Freedom of Expression provisions, the media as a whole are being denied the right to natural justice to present their side of the story – on any issue, for that matter – before any judicial officer.”
In the letter they have also requested the CJI to intervene in the issue and assure security for the reporters in the Court premises and the permission to get the information on particular cases, so that they can publish the news in time to the public.
Commenting on the issue Advocate Ajith Kumar said, “Media persons have behaved in a childish manner by not attending the function and some of the media outlets that have published this news in just one column and have indirectly aimed to make fun of the legal fraternity. This points out their arrogance on the issue and to the fact that they don’t have any intention to wrap up the problems. They should have at least thought that this behaviour would reflect negatively on them when the petition submitted by them in the Supreme Court is considered.”
The Kerala Working Journalists’ Union (KWJU), in a press conference that was called on November 1, has announced that the media fraternity has only one demand – that the stand-off between them and the advocates be sorted out at the earliest and that the authorities need to intervene. C. Narayanan, Secretary of KWJU, has informed that if the media is not given its rights respectfully, then it will also restrain from publishing promotion stories. This could probably be the reason why many of the media houses did not carry the news of the CJI inaugurating the function. However, some of the newspapers have carried a one-column news item on the same.
The media persons have also demanded that they be allowed to enter the Judge’s chamber and receive the judgment copy of any case directly, after the judgment is dictated.
Adv. Ajith added that this is absurd because even the lawyer who appears for a particular case gets the judgment copy only after ten days. “How can a reporter get a privilege that is not even granted to the advocates?” he asked.
Explaining the background of the issue, Adv. Ajith commented, “The exact problem with the entire issue is not what is being projected by the media. They have been saying that they have been denied the right to expression and were manhandled by the advocates in the Court complex for reporting. What they should understand is that this is not just a place that provides them with breaking news items. This is a place where law is implemented and therefore has many protocols and rules that need to be followed. Projecting that media should be allowed to enter anywhere they want to in order to cover the news is a lame excuse. This clearly shows their arrogance.”
The latest incident, however, indicates that the agitations may not subside soon. The media houses boycotting the function have raised speculations regarding their stand. KWJU, which says it is trying to end the problems, need to explain the latest action as well.