S P E C I A L    E D I T O R I A L

It’s censorship
by H.K. Dua

Over the years, the rigours of the Law of Contempt have prevented the Press and the people from examining the functioning of the judiciary.

The judiciary has also used the Law of Contempt as a shield against public scrutiny and criticism which are essential for its own health.

The Law of Contempt has particularly prevented the Press from reporting a few developments in the Punjab and Haryana High Court that are of vital public interest.

But now another development has taken place which is causing concern to the newspapers in Punjab and Haryana. We thought we should bring it to the notice of the people.

Several responsible newspapers in the region, including The Tribune, have received identical letters from an officer of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which seeks to place restrictions on them in doing their legitimate duty.

The letter written by Mr M.M. Singh Bedi, Registrar (Judicial)-cum-Public Relations Officer of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, was received on the fax by The Tribune on April 7, 2004.

Mr M.M. Singh Bedi’s letter addressed to the Editor, The Tribune - which he describes as the High Court’s Press communiqué - reads:

“It is understood that some news is going to be published in relation to the affairs of the High Court in the media. I am directed to issue a Press Communique to the Press (sic) that no news pertaining to the administrative affairs of the High Court should be published unless correctness of it is cross-checked from me.”

The High Court’s Press communiqué is brief and looks simple in language, but can have implications for the freedom the Press enjoys under the Constitution.

We do not know how Mr Bedi knew what stories the newspapers were likely to carry and what “the affairs” of the Punjab and Haryana High Court were that he was referring to.

Mr Bedi also does not say under whose authority he has sent the missive to the newspapers. He merely says “he has been directed to” to do so, giving the impression that these are orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Inquiries made by us show that several judges are not aware of the letter to the newspapers or its contents. Some of them are as surprised as the recipients of this letter were.

Ordinarily, the Registrar (Judicial) functions under the authority of the Chief Justice of the High Court. As such we take it as an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

But more than this, what is of concern to the Press is the High Court’s intention behind issuing the Press communiqué.

Mr Bedi says in the Press communiqué that “no news pertaining to the administrative affairs of the High Court should be published unless the correctness of it is cross-checked from me”.

We, in The Tribune, and other newspapers are perhaps more concerned about accuracy of our news than Mr Bedi. Most newspapers strive hard daily to check and counter-check facts before publishing news for the benefit of the public.

If it was just an advisory from Mr Bedi, we might have taken it as a new-found keenness of the High Court’s first-ever Public Relations Officer to show efficiency. But it is not so apparently.

What the High Court’s ill-advised communiqué is trying to ensure is that the Press cannot publish a news about what is happening in the administrative side unless it is cleared by Mr Bedi, who enjoys the officiating status of Registrar (Judicial)-cum-Public Relations Officer. It is fear of facts that seems to be the cause of the communiqué.

Essentially, a PRO, is supposed to be of help to the people and the Press, but the High Court’s new officer has clearly been directed to assume the role of an authority which would have the power to pre-censor the reports and information which the newspapers are duty-bound to share with the readers on matters of public interest.

It is clear from the Press communiqué that the Punjab and Haryana High Court in its wisdom is trying to impose a kind of censorship - or a news clearing authority - for which it has no power under the Constitution. And nor we think it is proper for the Press to submit to it.

We in the Press will strive for accuracy and professional values despite the High Court’s directive and, if necessary, without the help of its Registrar (Judicial)-cum-Public Relations Officer. 

HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | National Capital |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |