These were the words of Mid-Day editor Vitusha Oberoi, when asked on the line of defence they adopted in the Delhi High Court. This happened as the Delhi High Court sentenced 4 journalists of Mid Day to 4 months in jail for contempt of court. What irked the court was a report published in the Mid-Day that suggested that a former Chief Justice had benefited from his judgments.
This raises a gamut of very disturbing questions. The first, and the biggest one is the sanctity of free speech. The preamble to the Indian constitution says:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
Note line 2. Liberty of thought and expression. Now courts are the upholder of the constitution. Courts must act always to protect the right of free speech. But in this case, it appears that the court wants journalists to shut up. Judiciary, as all other government departments, are run by civil servants. And we all know how rampant corruption is. There have been questions on accountability of judges and judgements raised earlier. But the one very powerful weapon that the courts have will always protect them.
Contempt of court. If the court finds any individual who is writing, or talking in a way that the court thinks is wrong, he/she can be booked for contempt of the court. And sentenced to jail just like the Mid-Day journalists have been. But is the court right in doing so? In order to maintain the sanctity of the Judiciary it is necessary to have a mechanism that controls any sort of mud-slinging on this pillar of the Indian governance system.
Courts definitely have the right to book people in contempt. But should it also clamp down on those who are exposing the flaws in the Judicial system? Should the court gag those mouths that talk about the mistakes they have made, or about the corruption that might have been there?
Roman poet Juvenal has said:
This translates to “Who will guard the guards?” This is very apt in this scenario. Who will judge the judges? Who will make sure that such gag orders on honest journalists do not get passed? Who will make sure that erring judges are held accountable for their mistakes and suitably punished, rather than punishing those who raised their voice?
Let the judiciary not turn itself into a dictatorship. Let it be open to ideas of improvement, let it listen when any journalist raises a voice on its functioning.
Investigate, and if the journalist is correct, then take action on the erring judge. If not, then book the journalist for contempt of court.
Be the strongest pillar of the Indian Government, and show willingness to improve. That is what India wants from you.
Do not persecute those who show your flaws, rather remove those flaws and get better.
And uphold the right to free speech!! India really needs it more now than ever.