On 24 January, the Karnataka High Court has declined to accept the compensation amount of Rs 10 Lakh which was offered by Deccan Herald, as a cost for publishing a false news report.
The bench consisting of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Hemant Chandangoudar was hearing a suo-moto criminal contempt petition when the counsel appearing for Deccan Herald told the bench that it was ready to deposit a cost of Rs 5 lakh, as directed by the court in the last hearing, which might allay the offense committed by the newspaper in publishing a false news report.
However, dismissing the contention of the counsel, the bench said that “Considering the damage the news report has done and the cascading effect it has had, the amount is not acceptable. If at all the accused are convicted, how much cost they will incur to go to Supreme Court. Will it be Rs 5 lakhs or 7.5 lakh? It is up to them to balance the prospects of either ending in jail or escaping with paying a substantial cost.”
As per reports, Deccan Herald has published a false news report titled ‘Rupees 9 crores was seized from the residence of a City Civil Court (Bengaluru) Judge in a raid by the vigilance wing of the Karnataka High Court.’ This was further carried by three other local Kannada channels and one of the three channels had even shown a clip claiming Rs 9 crore being counted. However, after the news was proved to be false, the three Kannada channels sought to pay Rs 5 lakh each for every respondent/accused and also offered to make programs for State Legal Aid Services Authority.
Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, appearing as amicus curiae in the case argued that “The amount is not sufficient and the apology is not bonafide since the condemners have not disclosed the source of the information published.”
Navadgi further submitted a memo with suggestions for framing guidelines for media coverage of court proceedings and reports relating to the functioning of the judiciary. He contended in his memo that all the television and print media houses who are involved in covering legal proceedings in High Courts as well as in the Trial courts should be well trained in reporting and must have a basic legal education.
He observed that “As a matter of self-regulation, the media must exercise caution and restraint while reporting on everyday court proceedings since observations are often made in the courts that are tentative in nature and do not form the final opinion of the court.” He further added that the court reporters must be registered with the registrar of the High Court and should wear an identifiable badge provided to them after due registration.
Citing the above contentions, the court hinted that it may accept the apology offered by two Kannada local channels, except that of BTV which has created false evidence of the Rs 9 crore to be counted.
“Your case is on a different footing, as irreparable damage has been caused,” stated the bench to the counsel of Deccan and posted the matter for further hearing on 27 January to pass appropriate orders.