Monday, December 17, 2007

A legal misunderstanding.

Is it just me, or has there been a lot of tension between the media and the judiciary of late? I mean, this is the same judiciary that has in the past protected the media from legislative over-reach, courtesy Indira Gandhi and both her sons. But lately, in the midst of the media boom there have been some fascinating cases and some rather peculiar decisions.
The first was the censure of Vijay Shekhar, Zee News correspondent on exposing corruption in the lower judiciary. While some might question the means, any person with half a brain in this country knows that the lower judiciary in this country is anything but upright. Heck, the ‘advocates’ in a district level court operate like a mafia and the judges in these places are hand in glove with them. The previous sentence is liable for judicial reproach, but the average Indian has lost faith in the judicial process completely.
The second case is obviously the case regarding the Mid-Day journalists, who were put into jail without being given a chance to explain their positions. I’m sorry but how on earth was justice served in that case? I am not talking as a journalist, but as an average citizen. By sending those people to jail, all the honourable court did was to cement the idea in the heads of Delhi traders that the Justices involved were corrupt, their (his) reputation mixed into mud for all eternity. If the Court had taken a rational decision, the (accused) retired Justice would also be able to defend himself, and their decision leads most people to believe that someone is trying to ‘hide’ something.
The third, is a bizarre recent ‘suggestion’ by the Delhi High Court, which recommends that every ‘sting’ operation goes through a I&B ministry appointed committee. Thousands of tons of ink and newsprint have been wasted ever since that suggestion on newspaper edits which no-one reads questioning this suggestion. If it is taken any further, we can be assured of articles by Barkha and Rajdeep questioning the logic of the decision, so I am not particularly surprised that our I&B minister hasn’t peeped a peep!
Legal issues have come to roost in the media. I was being told recently by a close friend that the number of lawyers employed by NDTV alone has increased seven-fold in the past three or four years and some stories take weeks to get cleared by ‘leagl’. As the media becomes more competitive, more and more legal issues will pop up, because sooner or later we will be discussing the sexual habits of India’s cricketers on the front pages. I’m really looking forward to the tour reports from Melbourne this time round!
But, coming back to the issue at hand, there is now a dichotomy between the judiciary and the fourth estate. Part of the problem is a lack of knowledge on both parts. The other night there was a show hosted by a very senior anchor on Afzal Guru (on CNN-IBN at 10PM) where I was surprised at her lack of legal knowledge – if the Supreme Court has taken a decision – there is no legal issue left. The SC does not pass Death sentences lightly, basic civics lesson.
But anyway, that was just an illustrative example of a fairly senior journalist who does not understand issues (why she brought up the term Kashmiri Muslim however was beyond me, caste or creed had nothing to do with the case), and I can pretty much assure you that most journalists don’t understand legal issues. I have sit for hours sometimes to get into the nitty-gritties of telecom lawsuits, but that is an area where the lawyers aren’t quite sure either. If you were to ask me, as a journalist, on the merits of some major case or another, chances are that I wouldn’t know a thing.
Therefore, I would really like for someone to establish a Media-Judicial Centre, where such issues can be discussed and some amount of thinking can happen and some amount of thinking can happen, and instead of filling up such a centre with senile retirees, get insightful new thinking from field reporters and younger editors and younger lawyers. Because, while the media is evolving not just with TV, but soon to live streaming online video and what not, media law will need to evolve. You cannot judge the media with half-century (occasionally older) old laws. At the same time, journalists of all hues need to understand that in an rapidly expanding economy, the first industry that benefits is the legal industry and even young reporters need to understand the law and the implications of every story they do.
This is just an idea, but I think it can work, I think it should be there. Anyway… Comments welcome.


Soumyadip said...

In media courses (there are too many of them now) there is usually a paper on Media Laws and Ethics. It is also usually the most detested by the students.

K said...

It must be taught badly then. No but what I'm saying is also set-up a Media-Law Centre for journalists and legal practioners to inetract and talk about legal issues at a time when the media and law are going through rather dramatic changes!