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Kapadia re-locks horns with media as constit bench to regulate court reporting

Judiciary picks new fight with media
Judiciary picks new fight with media
The Supreme Court will form a constitution bench of five judges to frame guidelines for media coverage of the court and its proceedings following a news report on Tuesday.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.H. Kapadia said in open court that he was upset by a front-page story in The Times of India about proceedings in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed against his predecessor K.G. Balakrishnan in a disproportionate assets case.

During the hearing on Monday, attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati had submitted a report in a sealed cover to the court regarding an income-tax department investigation into the assets of Balakrishnan and members of his family.

Balakrishnan, currently chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, is facing allegations that his family members came to possess assets disproportionate to their known sources of income during his tenure.

The court questioned the news report on the ground that “statements have been attributed to AG (attorney general) which he never stated in court”, a reference to the “large amounts” being paid to Balakrishnan’s kin mentioned in the story.

A spokesperson for The Times of India said, “no comments for the moment. We have to see the guidelines”.

The court has also asked senior lawyers K.K. Venugopal, Fali S. Nariman and Vahanvati to assist it in the matter.

The court has previously taken umbrage at reporting in the P.J. Thomas case, the Vodafone tax case and justice Gyan Sudha Mishra’s declaration of assets in which she had mistakenly listed her daughters as liabilities.

After lawyer Harish Salve had complained to the court on being misquoted in the Vodafone tax case, the Supreme Court shored up its eligibility criteria for court correspondents, which included a law degree and several years of reporting experience. But this was later relaxed after journalists met justice Dalveer Bhandari, member of the apex court’s press committee, and submitted a memorandum on why the media should not be denied access on the grounds of eligibility.

Most recently, Nariman complained to Kapadia’s bench on a confidential proposal from his client, the Sahara group, to the Securities and Exchange Board of India, being aired on business channel CNBC-TV18. On that occasion too, the court made observations against the media report.

The Times of India and The Economic Times, published by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, compete with Hindustan Times and Mint, published by HT Media Ltd.

Shuchi Bansal contributed to this story.

This article was first appeared in Mint today.

In October 2011 the bench and media agreed a truce after the Supreme Court, under newly publicised rules, would have effectively banned a majority of court correspondents from reporting from the apex court.

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