Katju defends The Indian Express
Newslaundry comments: The one time the Indian media gets a pat on the back, it’s for the coup that never was!
PR/13/2012-2013 12th April, 2012
Re:order of the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court (Lucknow Bench) dated 10.4.2012 regarding movement of army troops.
I have perused the order of the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court in writ petition No 2685 dated 10.4.2012. In that order a direction has been given to the Secretary, Home Affairs, and Secretary Information & Broadcasting, Government of India and the Principal Secretary (Home) , Govt. of U.P. to ensure that there is no reporting/ release of any news item by the print as well as electronic media relating to the subject matter, namely the movement of troops as contained in the accompanying annexures. (The news of alleged troop movement towards Delhi published by Indian Express on 4.4.2012). In this connection, I am of the opinion that regarding reporting of troop movement by the Media a balanced approach has to be taken. On the one hand freedom of the media is guaranteed as a fundamental right in Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution, on the other hand this right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest as mentioned in Article 19(2).
Now coming specifically to the question of reporting of movement of troops , I am of the opinion that reporting troop movement near the Indian border or during war time should be prohibited as that may aid the enemy and cause harm to our armed forces, by compromising national security. However, in my opinion there can be no general prohibition of reporting of all troop movements.
As regards the reporting of alleged troop movement by the Indian Express, I am of the opinion that without going into the question whether the news reporting was factually correct or not, there could not have been a valid prohibition of such reporting, because the troop movement was not at the Indian border or during war time. On the other hand the allegation in the Indian Express report was that there was some convention written or unwritten, that troop movements towards Delhi should not take place without notifying and getting consent of the government, and it was alleged that the troop movement in question took place without notifying the government. The further allegation was that this caused panic among the civil authorities, and the troop movement was abruptly stopped.
The Allahabad High Court order was passed on a writ petition relating to the above publication in the Indian Express. With great respect to the High Court, I am of the opinion that the order of the High Court is not correct. The Media has a fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution to make such publication, as it did not endanger national security.
I may add that the Indian Army is not a colonial army, but the army of the Indian people who pay the taxes for the entire defence budget. Hence the people of India have a right to know about army affairs, except where that may compromise national security. The media did an excellent job in exposing the Adarsh and Sukhna scams in which senior army officers were involved, and they were well within their right under Article 19(1) (a) to do so.
The Indian Express is not a fly by night newspaper, but a responsible one. They took 11 weeks to complete the investigation of the reported troop investigation before deciding to publish the report. Hence I do not see how they can be faulted.
The Press Council of India will be challenging the order of the Allahabad High Court in the Supreme Court of India very shortly.
Chairman, Press Council of India
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