Published: 03rd May 2021
Delhi HC dismisses PIL seeking direction to restrain news channels from spreading negativity, insecurity
The Court also noted that the petitioner failed to appraise it about a single incident where the media has reported incorrectly or violated any rules
The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking issuance of direction to the Government of India to frame guidelines in a time-bound manner for the airing of news of sensitive nature such as reporting of mass-scale deaths and sufferings by the people by broadcasters/TV channels and restraining them from spreading negativity, sense of insecurity towards life, alarm, injury, harm, suffering, and damage.
A bench of Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh on Monday while dismissing the PIL said, "It seems this is public interest litigation instead of public interest litigation."
"We find no reason to entertain this plea. Informing the public about the numbers of deaths due to COVID is not negative news," the court said
The Court also noted that the petitioner failed to appraise it about a single incident where the media has reported incorrectly or violated any rules.
The petitioner, Lalit Valecha, a practising lawyer in Delhi, also sought the issuance of appropriate directions for evolving and enforcing the Code of Ethics/Regulations on the TV news channels for regulating the contents of the news broadcasts and various other programs, so that it does not cause negativity, sense of insecurity towards life, alarm, injury, harm, suffering and damage to the public at large and does not ruin the morale of the people.
The PIL mentioned that TV news channels are airing news bulletins 24x7 and most of the time such news bulletins are repeat telecast. Although the same negative images/visuals/stories are shown in the repeated programs, it gives an impression as if new/fresh incidents are occurring every now and then. In the present-day scenario, in view of the fact that the people are confined indoors, people do watch the news channel time and again.
It also stated that news articles and various other programs are watched by all including the children (even minors), old, sick and critically sick, infirm persons.
It added that in the interest of justice appropriate restrictions are imposed and regulatory measures are put in place regarding the airing of news articles and other programs so that the public at large is not exposed to such negative images/ visuals/stories all the time.
Balancing the freedom of the press with putting in place checks and balances that seek to instill a sense of responsibility and to prevent abuse of this freedom, without the "chilling effect" that would impair journalistic freedom is a big challenge.
"It is the duty of media to keep the citizenry informed of the state of governance with adequate and appropriate checks and safeguards, specific to the electronic media that can define the path that would conform to the highest standards of rectitude and guide the media in the discharge of its solemn constitutional duty," the plea read.
It is necessary that news channels recognize that they have a special responsibility in the matter of adhering to high standards, obligations, and morals of reporting, journalism, and airing of the news since they have the most potent influence on the public at large/viewers.
"The selection and airing of items of news must always be governed by public interest and importance based on the significance of these items of news," the plea added.