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Journalist’s Checklist on Parliamentary Proceedings and Contempt of Court

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Introduction

In the Parliamentary form of government, the legislature and the media are the two important pillars for the welfare of people. The legislature considers debating on important issues for enhancement of the working of the country and the media helps to educate the citizens about it. Now if we see that the Free Press is the hallmark of democracy and under Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, the freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed to each and every citizen and Freedom of the press comes under this article. The section 3 of the Parliamentary Proceedings Act, 1977 states about the publication of the report of parliamentary proceedings and section 4 of the act states the broadcast by wireless telegraphy.

Freedom of Press

In democratic India, the freedom of the press is given utmost importance and it has also been declared as the fourth pillar of democracy. Though it has not been mentioned in the Indian Constitution explicitly, it is covered under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution which is freedom of speech and expression. It has been settled by various judicial precedents that the freedom of expression and speech includes Freedom of the press. In the case of Indian Express Newspaper v Union of India, the supreme court held that the Freedom of the press has been comprehended with the Article 19(1)(a) and it is the liberty of media to propagate one’s views and also to commence with the publication for the awareness of citizen. In the case of Bennet Coleman and company limited v Union of India, the learned judge explained that the freedom of press implies to the right of all citizens to express their opinions, speak and publish. A free press is sine qua non which means that it is free from dictatorship and people being in a democratic nation can express their opinions openly and there is right of media to showcase the transparency in the governmental working through the publication of Parliamentary proceedings. The key principles which were established after the famous Bennet Coleman case regarding the freedom of the press are as follows:

  1. It cannot be only restricted to the propaganda of commercial purposes and activities but it can also be extended in respect of circulation, publication and propagation of views and news regarding the nation.
  2. The next provision was regarding no restriction to the page limits of a newspaper as the restraint can infringe the right of freedom to press.

Publication of Parliamentary Proceedings

The publication of proceedings of either of the Houses can only be made under the authority of house and that can be made under Article 105(2) in respect of the Parliament and under Article 194(2) for the State legislature. There is no such provision of publication in the newspapers until and unless it has been sanctioned or authorised by the House itself. As  section 4 of the Parliamentary Proceedings Act, 1977under which one can publish the proceedings through wireless telegraphs, now the provision has been added to the Indian Constitution after 44th amendment under Article 361 A.

So Article 361 A gives the protection to publications of Parliamentary proceedings and the provisions are as follows:

  1. No person shall be liable for the publication of proceedings of either of the houses unless it has made with the intention of malice and it will not apply to the secret sitting proceedings of the house.
  2. The above-mentioned provision talks about the publication through the means of the report and the wireless telegraphy.

Limitations on Publication of Proceedings

Under Article 118 of the Indian Constitution, it has been explicitly mentioned that each House has the privilege of setting up some rules and regulations for the procedure of conducting every proceeding and conduct of its business. For instance, in Lok Sabha, the Secretary-General is authorized to prepare the full report of the proceedings and then to publish it under the direction of the speaker of the House. So, the overall limitations are legislated to prevent the secret sittings and debates from publications and to provide punishment if violated.

Under Rule 379 of the Rules of procedure and the conduct of business in Lok Sabha, it has empowered the Speaker for the publication of the report for each of the sittings of the house and may direct about the rules for publication from time to time.

  • Normally, there is no such specific restriction which is to be imposed on the publication. But if the proceedings and the debates are published with the malafide intention or any of the proceeding or debate is misrepresented, this may amount to the liability for publication. It is considered as a breach of privilege and contempt of the house.
  • If there is a publication of any of the evidence or the document presented before the Parliamentary committee for any Proceeding, it may also amount to a breach of privilege.
  • Each house has the right to punish the offender and they also have the privilege to decide whether the offence can be constituted as contempt of court or not.

Publication of Expunged Portion

It has also been mentioned under the parliamentary privileges that there is right to prohibit the publication of the proceeding of Expunged Portion and without malafide intention. It is specifically mentioned apart from the provisions given in article 105(1) and (2). Normally, no such restrictions are being imposed but there are some expunged parts of the debate which are prohibited from publication and they constitute to the breach of privilege. It is prohibited by the order of the speaker of the house and the contempt will be accordingly punishable.

The Search light case: In this case, a member of Bihar legislative made a statement towards ex-minister of Bihar in his annual budget speech and the speaker of the house declared it as the expunged portion of the speech but the speech got published. This case raised the issue of whether the privilege would prevail over the fundamental right to speech and expression. The court held in the end that fundamental right should yield to article 194 and clause 3.

Casting Reflection: Breach of Privilege

Publication of any libel or reflecting the character of any member of the house or the proceeding may lead to contempt of the house and the breach of privilege and this is known as the casting privilege. Moreover, when the proceedings are published due to malafide intention or wilfully misrepresented or any part of the speech is being suppressed, the offender is held liable.

The Blitz case: The member of Lok Sabha questioned about the news publication and the caption under the photograph which says “ theKripaloony impeachment”  and it was an article regarding the impeachment of Acharya Kriplani. It was held that the contention was wrong and cannot be accepted and Article 19(1) must yield to Article 105(3) which holds more importance.

In the case of Keshav Singh v Speaker, Legislative Assembly.U.P, the petitioner was held liable for contempt of court for circulating the pamphlets against a member of UP assembly and he was given simple imprisonment for seven days.

What can the Media and Journalists do?

The following are the actions which are considered valid in the eyes of law without any breach:

  • It can expose the ideas and the battle of ideas by a balanced coverage of parliament with the opinions given by opposition and all the MPs.
  • All parliamentary and political news should be considered on a factual basis and the objective should be made clear.
  • Media should avoid indulging in the relations which may criticise the Parliament and its members.
  • Constructive criticism and fearless coverage of political issues may help the public to understand the electoral carefully and prudently by providing valid information.
  • There should be no involvement in creating the controversies upon internal differences of the political parties.
  • Media is obligated to understand the standards given in Commonwealth and set standards should reflect the local circumstances of the country.
  • An important task to provide with the comprehensive knowledge of Parliament’s role and position.

Journalism and Contempt of Court

The word contempt means when there is willful disobedience on the basis of judgement, decree, order and its willful breach undertaking is given to the court. The contempt can be of two types :

  • Civil Contempt
  • Criminal Contempt

Under Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, the term Criminal Contempt has been defined in regards to the publication of the proceedings. The provision to fall under the liability of Criminal contempt are the following:

  • The criminal contempt is done by the means of words ( whether spoken or written), representation of any of the matter which involves the following:
  • Any publication which may scandalise and tends to scandalise the proceeding or that may lower down the authority in due course.
  • Any prejudice or the interference in the judicial proceedings.
  • Interference or obstruction of the administration of justice in any other manner.

Acts that are established as contempt under various case laws are as follows:

  • Shoe Flinging on the Judge
  • Making personal attacks on the presiding judge through the publications
  • Slapping a lawyer in court premises

Following are the cases in which publication can lead to contempt of court:

  •  If it is against any law for the time being.
  • If there is a prohibition of public policy by a court.
  • If the matter involves the security of the state.
  • If the matter involves public order.
  • Most importantly, if the case or the information is related to some secret meeting or development.

Restrictions for journalists under Contempt of Court Act, 1977

According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1977, one is only allowed to make in fair publication of the proceedings and to take accurate proceedings in camera trial only. But if such publication is coming under restricted publication then one can be prosecuted.

In the case of Perspective Publication v State of Maharashtra, the editor and the publisher were found guilty as they published a statement regarding the order of Judge and it involved payment of a loan of Rs. 10 lakh to judge’s brother by one of the parties in the case. In the case of Rajendra sail v Madhya Pradesh High court bar association, the editor and the publisher were imprisoned for six months due to contempt of court.

Punishment for contempt of court:

The guilty can be rendered with simple imprisonment upto six months or fine which may be extended up to 2 thousand or both of the punishments.

Conclusion

Although the fundamental right of speech and expression is important to a citizen but in the case of parliamentary proceedings and privileges, the media has to yield to article 194 and Article 105 specifically to avoid the contempt of court.

Reference

https://wecommunication.blogspot.com/2014/08/what-is-contempt-of-court.html
https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/127669/18/10_chapter%204.pdf
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Journalists-get-4-month-jail-for-court-contempt/articleshow/2391734.cms

http://www.presscouncil.nic.in/OldWebsite/speechpdf/Bhubaneswar%20Law%20Lecture.pdf

http://delhiassembly.nic.in/media.htm

Contributed by: Shreya Marwaha, A Member of Legal Experts Team at LLL

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