New Delhi, Sep 11: The Supreme Court Tuesday said there can be no blanket guidelines to
regulate media reporting of sub-judice matters across the board but postponement of reporting could be sought in specific cases. "No guidelines can be framed across the board to regulate media reporting of sub-judice matters," Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, heading a constitution bench, said while pronouncing the verdict. "Finding an acceptable constitutional balance between free press and administration of justice is a difficult task in every legal system," he said. However, any aggrieved person apprehending prejudice can move the competent court seeking the postponement of reporting by media in specific cases, Kapadia added. The court, however, clarified that any such order will be of short duration - subject to the principle of necessity and proportionality. The court said that such an order will be "preventive and not punitive" action. The court said it was issuing the directions to balance the right of media to report and that of litigants to a fair trial. Besides Chief Justice Kapadia, other judges on the bench included Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar. The court said a postponement order would not only safeguard fairness of trial or connected proceedings but also prevents possible contempt by the media. "The principle underlying postponement orders is that it prevents possible contempt," the court said. "Before passing postponement orders, courts should look at the content of the offending publication (as alleged) and its effect. Such postponement orders operate on actual publication. Such orders direct postponement of the publication for a limited period," the court said. The court said that the right to freedom of speech, including media reporting, under the constitution was not an absolute right and was subject to classification and the test of reasonableness. "Right to freedom of expression under the First Amendment in the US is absolute which is not so under the Indian constitution in view of such right getting restricted by the test of reasonableness and in view of the heads of restrictions under Article 19(2)," the judgment said. Referring to the contention that restricting media or postponing the media reporting of a case was contrary to open justice, the court said: "Thus, the principle of open justice is not absolute. There can be exceptions in the interest of administration of justice." Pointing to the powers of court in directing media to postpone reporting of a sub-judice matter, the judges said: "In most jurisdictions there is power in the courts to postpone reporting of judicial proceedings in the interest of administration of justice. Under Article 19(2) of the constitution, law in relation to contempt of court, is a reasonable restriction." The court said the aggrieved litigant can obtain the order or postponement on case-to-case basis only by moving either the Supreme Court or a high court which, in turn, may restrain the media from reporting a particular case for a limited period. The court was hearing an application by the real estate arm of Sahara group of companies after a Feb 7 personal letter written by its counsel Fali Nariman to Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) counsel. The letter contained a proposal for securing money that two Sahara real estate companies had mopped up from the market. A news was telecast by a news channel on the issue Feb 10, day before the hearing of the matter in the court. Nariman took exception to this and submitted that disclosure to the media was by the SEBI in breach of confidentiality, a charge denied by the market regulator's counsel. Sahara later moved an application seeking framing of guidelines on reporting, including by electronic media, of the sub-judice matter.