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"There can be little doubt that much of the data relating to COVID-19 is made available by newspapers, news channels and articles and people would not have known as much about COVID-19, but for the media."
The Bombay High Court on Friday made pertinent observations of the role of the media amid the COVID-19 pandemic, on which topic a note of caution was also sounded (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra and ors).
The Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice AA Sayed noted,
The Court made the observation while passing its judgment a batch of over 20 PILs raising numerous issues that had arisen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
The petitioners in the case had told the Court that the unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in the inability of the petitioners to obtain information at the ground level by conducting a requisite investigation themselves. Therefore, many of the petitions had cited press reports to raise grievances.
The Court acknowledged that,
Responding the questions over whether the Court should entertain PILs filed on the basis of media reports, the Bench ultimately pointed out that it is not uncommon to entertain even suo motu proceedings for the public good relying on media reports.
In such cases, the decisions arrived at the Court rest on evidence that is admissible and relevant. As long as this approach is following, the Court noted that there is no hurdle to rely on media reports.
In this regard, the order states, “So long a media report relied on by a party or any part thereof is not disputed by the other, we see no harm in separating the grain from the chaff and putting the same to a party for eliciting his/its response.
The Court went on to hold,
Having held thus, the Bench on Friday also issued a number of directions and suggestions to the State authorities on various issues raised by the PIL petitioners.