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Media and Contempt of Court


Media is called the fourth pillar of democracy. The legislature, executive, and judiciary are called the first three pillars. Free and fair media is very much essential in a democratic society. It provides a medium for forming public opinion and creates awareness among the people about the happenings in the world. Freedom of speech and expression gives us free media. The media is expected to work within the framework given in the Constitution. Article 19[1] of the Constitution of India guaranteed the right to freedom of speech and expression, although it also provides reasonable restrictions imposed by law, which includes the law of contempt provided only if the restrictions were reasonable. The restrictions are provided in Article 19(2)[2] which includes contempt of court. Ensuring maximum justice working of both the media and judiciary is essential. An independent judiciary is also necessary for keeping a check on the misuse of the provisions provided in the Constitution for its freedom.


The contempt of Court Act, 1977 was passed, as the Preamble says that to define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of court.

Section 2[3] of the contempt of Court Act, 1971 says that any act done or writing published, calculated to bring a court or a judge of the court into contempt or lower its authority is Contempt of Court. And any act done or writing published, calculated to obstruct or interfere with the due course of justice or the lawful process of the court is contempt of court.[4]

Contempt of Court is a medium through which the judiciary can uphold its dignity. This limitation ensures that no outside force can influence the court of justice. Article 129(2) and Article 215(3)[5] of the constitution protect the contempt of court proceedings. 


According to VirBala Aggarwal and V.S Gupta publication of anything, which tends to create in the minds of the common people an apprehension about the ability, integrity, or fairness of a judge or tends to deter litigants from complete faith in the Court’s administration of justice and that amounts to contempt. Also, such publication which may cause embarrassment in the judge’s mind to the discharge of his duty is contempt of court.[6]

Once the judicial proceedings start, the media should not publish the evidence. Sometimes journalists investigate crimes and gather evidence. The media can publish such materials before the court proceedings start because such materials are often in the public interest and it doesn’t come under contempt of court. Alleging a judge’s dishonesty is contempt, while we can criticize the part of the judgment as erroneous. Newspapers doing trial is not acceptable to the law as it is considered interference by the courts in the justice system or pending cases. A person cannot be made guilty of contempt of court for innocent publication when civil or criminal cases are pending in some matter.

The purpose behind initiating contempt of court proceedings is not to limit freedom of speech and expression. The purpose is to stop disruption in the administration of justice. Sometimes due to over enthusiasm media tends to cross the limits by misreporting, wrong public opinion which ultimately could affect the faith of public upon the justice system. So as to keep the check on media’s vigilant reporting on issues which are subjudice contempt of court proceedings becomes important.

The right to free trail may get hamper when there is excessive coverage by the media during the trail. In the Kathua gang rape case, the media showed the identity of the minor victim. While Section 23 and Section 228A[7] of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act provides the revealing of the identity of the rape victim as a punishable offence.[8] Therefore, the Delhi High Court fined those media Houses of ₹10 lakhs as penalty.[9]

In the case of Ram Dayal v. State of U. P.,[10] the Supreme Court gave some test to decide whether a particular publication is reasonable. It said that if any publication shall interfere or hinder in the process of delivery of justice then that publication cannot be considered as fair and reasonable publication.


The Press Council of India provides certain guidelines to be followed for the mentioning of the print media. But the Press Council of India gives no provision for the enforcement of compliance of such guidelines. If there were provision for strict enforcement for compliance of such guidelines then there would have been a shift in fair and reasonable journalism.


1.Arundhati Roy, the writer was booked for the court of contempt in 2002. As she raised slogans and led a protest in Narmada BachaoAndolan, against the Supreme Court judgment because the court allowed the height of the dam to be maintained and give a green signal to the project. She was served show-cause notice for contempt of court. Then she filed an affidavit in response to the show-cause notice in which she criticized the court for issuing a disturbing notice on basis of some absurd petition. They also said that the purpose of the notice served to her indicated the court to silence criticism. The court asked her to apologize. But she rather chooses the punishment given for one day and a fine of Rs. 2000.[11]

  1. In the case of Chanchal Manohar Singh vs. High Court of Punjab and Haryana and Ors.[12], a senior reporter of The Indian Express 1996, named Chanchal Manohar Singh was given one-month imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2000. Later he was pardoned due to his apologies before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In this case, the court made an important observation that the legal reporting assignment should be given to a journalist having an experience in court reporting and has good knowledge of court and law procedures of law.[13]


In the Constitution of India, contempt of the Court is provided to the Supreme Court in Article 129 and the High Court in Article 215[14]. So, anyway, the courts are imposed with such power regardless of the Act. The public can be a part of the democracy when there is clarity in the functioning of every pillar. Thus except for certain cases, openness should be the order of the day for the judiciary as its strength lies in the confidence of the people. On the other hand, the media should work with the utmost responsibility to march toward the goal of a successful democracy.Rare conflict of interest between the judiciary and the media is common but lack of respect between the two can create disturbance in the administration of justice.

Author(s) Name: Hriday Jyoti Barman ( University Law College, Gauhati University)


[1] Constitution of India, 1950, art.19

[2] Constitution of India, 1950, art.19(2)

[3] Contempt of Court Act, 1977, s 2

[4]Mohd Aqib Alam, ‘Media and Courts: Contempt of Court Act’ (Legal Service India) <> accessed 7 July 2022

[5] Constitution of India, 1950, art.129(2) and art.215(3)

[6]Juhi P. Pathak, Introduction to MEDIA LAWS and ETHICS (1st edition, Shipra Publications 2014) 61

[7] Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, ss 23 and 228A

[8]Sonal Nandu, ‘Contempt of court in India and freedom of media and privacy in sub judice matters’ (Legal Desire, 16 March 2020) <> accessed 7July 2022

[9]‘Media Trial During Investigation Interferes With Administration Of Justice; Amounts To Contempt Of Court : Bombay High Court’ (Live Law, 18 January 2021) <> accessed 8 July 2022

[10] Ram Dayal v State of U. P., (2021) Criminal Appeal No. 944/1987

[11]Juhi P. Pathak (n 2)

[12] Chanchal Manohar Singh v High Court of Punjab and Haryana and Ors., (1988) 8 SCC 481


[14] Constitution of India, 1950, art.129 and art.215