Bombay HC, Media
Bombay HC, Media
Litigation News

[COVID-19 crisis] Media's responsibility to disseminate correct information is onerous and not to be taken lightly: Bombay High Court

"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."

Meera Emmanuel

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,

"At times, we find media houses to be divided in their loyalties and the reports coloured by partisan spirit and motivation. All loyalties must exclusively centre round the welfare of the State and its people. While opposing views on an issue lay bare the two sides, any conclusion - positive or negative - must be based on a true and fair account of what is perceived by the correspondent.
“The responsibility thrust on the media to disseminate correct information is onerous and is not supposed to be taken lightly.”
Bombay High Court

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,

"There can be little doubt, however, that much of the data relating to COVID-19 is made available by newspapers, news channels and articles doing rounds on social media and people would not have known as much about COVID-19, but for the media.”

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,

"... extra-ordinary situations deserve extra-ordinary treatment and in these times of test, inviting the attention of the judiciary to newspaper reports for taking cognizance of the plight of the unfortunate sufferers and requiring a party to share the details for the Court to suggest corrective measures, in the absence of the report or a part thereof being disputed, is not an impermissible course of action. After all, it is justice that should prevail over technicalities in times such as these and it must be left to each Court, dealing with the PIL petition, to decide in exercise of judicial discretion the weight that ought to be attached to the relevant media report."

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.

Read the Judgment:

Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra and ors. - June 12 Judgment.pdf
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