The Supreme Court on Monday (April 3) ruled that the media, being an important pillar of democracy, cannot be prevented from reporting on observations made in a court. This follows an Election Commission (EC) complaint against an observation of the Madras High Court last Friday that the poll panel was solely responsible for the rapid increase in COVID cases nationwide.
The observations were made by the Madras High Court bench that was hearing a petition filed by AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu Transport Minister MR Vijayabhaskar. The petition sought directions for the poll panel to implement strict measures ahead of counting on May 2 at Karur, the constituency where he had contested along with 76 other candidates.
The Madras High Court’s strong criticism of the EC was reported by the print, TV and online media. Taking objection to it, the EC had approached the Supreme Court on Saturday, asking it to put in place curbs on what the media can report.
However, the Supreme Court said on Monday that observations made in a court can be published/broadcast by the media sans constraints.
“Media is a powerful watchdog in democracy, it cannot be stopped from reporting discussions in higher courts. Seeking relief such as media should not report on observations is too far-fetched,” the PTI quoted the Supreme Court as saying in its observations.
The Supreme Court said the higher courts are also a key pillar of democracy, and it did not wish to demoralise them by criticising them for the remarks.
Super spreader event
The recent Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal and Assam were hard fought, with intensive campaigning by all parties, regional and national. Huge election rallies were held, where little social distancing was practised. Most participants in the rallies, including the political leaders, were not seen wearing masks.
Hence, as the second wave of COVID hit the country and the cases zoomed, the election rallies were termed a super spreader event.
The Madras High Court had sharply criticised the Election Commission for doing nothing to prevent the rallies from violating COVID protocols. Murder charges ought to be imposed on the Commission, as it is “the only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today”, it had observed.
“Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19. Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” it added.
Complaining to the Supreme Court, the Election Commission had called the High Court’s comments “uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory.”
While agreeing that the High Court’s “murder charges” remarks were rather strong, the Supreme Court said: “The high court judges are doing tremendous work, burning the midnight oil, they are overwhelmed. They know what’s happening on the ground. It is bound to affect your psyche.”
The EC defended itself saying it did not have adequate staff to contain the crowd in rallies. “There is an assumption that it has responsibility for COVID management,” it said.