Questions for the Indian Judiciary

29 Jul,2022




By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiThe Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana, has been giving some great speeches outside the Supreme Court recently. Just this Saturday at Ranchi, at the inaugural lecture in memory of Justice Satya Brata Sinha, he talked about the danger of media trials and kangaroo courts which impede the judiciary in actual trials.


The media needs to be responsible, said the Chief Justice.


And then there’s this sentence:


“Ill-informed and agenda-driven debates on issues involving justice delivery are proving to be detrimental to the health of democracy.”


On Tuesday, at a book launch, the Chief Justice said that it is the responsibility of media houses to “present facts”. The people he said “still believe that whatever is printed is true”.


“The media must confine itself to honest journalism without using it as a tool to expand its influence and business interests… Only media houses without business baggage were able to fight for democracy during (the) dark days of the Emergency. The true nature of media houses will certainly be assessed from time to time and appropriate conclusions will be drawn from their conduct during testing times.”


All this is all very well.


The media is irresponsible when it comes to upholding democracy.


And thus it follows that the media is responsible for the ongoing destruction of democracy.


As senior journalist Kingshuk Nag discusses here, the business influence on media houses is not new. But it has been fought and contained from within in earlier days. Today, less and less.

Paid news: Who will hold the media to account?


But I have other questions for the esteemed judiciary. As political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta asks in the link below, why does the judicial system verify opaque provisions like in the money-laundering act, which threaten democracy itself?


And what is the judiciary’s role in helping those media houses who do their best to protect democracy in “these testing times”?


And, when journalists, media houses, civil rights activists are actively targeted by various government agencies, why does the judiciary side with the oppressor and not the oppressed?


Why are our bail laws used so selectively by the judiciary? So many journalists have been arrested and denied bail for doing precisely what the Chief Justice says that journalists are not doing enough. Others have been arrested for simply trying to cover incidents – which is their basic job.


Why have some journalists been denied permission to travel abroad for unspecified reasons?


What value is given to the freedoms in Article 19 of the Constitution of India if government agencies can so easily bypass them?


What does it mean when a judgment or a statement by a judge in court accuses journalists and civil rights activists who speak for the oppressed of a “larger conspiracy”? And when activists are arrested on the basis of such statements?


How are journalists or the general public to react when a judge informs the court that peacocks procreate by sharing tears?


The Pegasus report which showed how the government used military grade spyware to target journalists, activists and others was released exactly a year ago, in 2021. How are media houses and journalists supposed to function when they are targeted like this, and get no help at all from the judiciary?


Earlier in 2019, Whatsapp had revealed the government had tapped and hacked into phones of journalists.


This year, evidence has been presented on how the phones and laptops of activists were hacked and fake evidence planted in them. This is the evidence on the basis of which these activists were arrested and imprisoned.


What help has the judiciary given them?


We understand what the Chief Justice means when he says that some cases are so complicated that even judges sometimes have a hard time understanding them.


Because there is so much about the judiciary’s role in keeping democracy alive that we, journalists and citizens, do not understand at all.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal


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