The media is without a doubt the fourth pillar of democracy, following the three pillars of legislative, executive, and judicial power. There are print media, television news channels, online newspapers, social media, and other forms of media. While social media does not fit under the traditional definition of media, news organisations do have a presence on the platform. Furthermore, because it broadcasts news of various kinds – from politics to celebrity news, from judicial information to global news – the media has a significant impact on individuals.

Media and contempt of court

Even though Article 19(1)(a) [1] of the Constitution does not clearly provide such a guarantee to all Indian people, the Supreme Court has stepped in to give a specific interpretation to the effect that Article 19(1)(a) might be deemed immediately applicable to press freedom. As a result, following Supreme Court decisions have ensured that the media is protected by constitutional safeguards and that any attempt to interfere with it is considered a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The courts interpreted this constitutional article to broaden its reach to include freedom of the press and its significance to the concept of a democratic republic. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees everyone the right to free speech and expression, is a source of concern for the media. However, Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution does not refer to the media expressly and is a guarantee to all Indian citizens. The Supreme Court has stepped in to clarify that Article 19(1)(a) is protected by constitutional protections, and any attempt to interfere with its operation is considered as an infringement of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. This assurance is provided by the constitution.

The Act and Art. 19(2) [2] have both been the subject of legal cases. One such case was Smt. Archana Guha v. Sri Ranjit Guha [3], in which the conflict arose from an article published in a Calcutta newspaper. The criticism of a judgement was done by manipulating the facts, but the Calcutta High Court found no contempt since criticising the judiciary should be free, even if done improperly. This case brought up the important point that no contempt litigation should be filed just because a judgement was misconstrued in the media. There is another option, which is to resolve the misunderstanding with the Registrar of the Press. By placing constraints in the form of the Act, media freedom is not curtailed. Instead, such limitations teach us that no freedom is absolute. Contempt can arise as civil or criminal contempt, according to the Act. Civil contempt is defined as failing to comply with a court’s judgement, order, decree, or other similar matters, which is irrelevant to the media. Criminal contempt is defined as any publication in any medium that seeks to undermine the authority of the courts, interferes with any court trial, or otherwise influences justice. The restriction on media freedom is caused by this criminal contempt. The Act, on the other hand, specifies what is not allowed.

These sections, while clarifying what contempt is, use ambiguous language. Because of the ambiguity, judges have a lot of leeway in deciding when and how contempt proceedings can be brought. Ss. 4 and 5 have a marginal note that says “fair,” but there’s no explanation of what “fair” means. Although S. 3(3) appears to state that a presumption of guilt exists, it must be understood that such a presumption is based on the belief that a publication under S. 3 was made in good faith. The High Court revived the case of Santosh Kumar Singh v. State [4], also known as the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, due to immense media pressure, and condemned the accused to death. Because he was the son of an Inspector General, the Trial Court had acquitted him. The Supreme Court was asked in Sahara India Real Estate Corp. v. SEBI [5] to draught appropriate norms for the media in sub judice proceedings. The court determined that a delicate balance must be struck between the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression and that postponement orders are the best remedy in such a situation. The right to freedom of expression is at the root of the Court’s unwillingness to pursue contempt cases. According to the case, the media acts as a conduit between the public and the courts, whose decisions ultimately become the law of the land. The Court said, “Unique solutions are required because neither the government nor the private sector can provide them.”

The Supreme Court established the standard to determine whether a publication is fair and reasonable in the landmark decision of Ram Dayal v. State of UP [6]. It stated that criticism that is likely to obstruct the administration of justice or jeopardise the public’s trust in the court of justice will not be considered fair and truthful. The Press Council of India has established several guidelines for the operation of print media in India. The print media is supposed to observe these rules and adhere to journalistic ethics. The noteworthy part is that there is no provision allowing the Press Council to enforce adherence to the principles and ethics. If such a clause is enacted, it will result in a change toward responsible and fair journalism.


Only when the operation of each pillar is transparent can the people be a part of democracy. Thus, unless in exceptional circumstances, openness should be the rule of the day for the court, whose strength is based on the public’s trust. The media, often known as the fourth estate, on the other hand, should strive diligently to achieve the goal of a successful democracy. It should remember that its freedom of speech and expression is for the good of the entire nation, not just for its advantage. Although there are seldom conflicts of interest between the judiciary and the media, a lack of respect between the two can obstruct the administration of justice and truth.

Author(s) Name: Meghna Prusty (Utkal University)


[1] Indian Constitution Article 19(1)(a)

[2] Indian Constitution Article 19(2)

[3] Smt. Archana Guha vs Ranjit Alias Runu Guha Neogi, 1990 CriLJ 2012

[4] Santosh Kumar Singh vs. State through CBI, (2010) 9 SCC 747

[5] (2013) 1 SCC 1     

[6] AIR 1978 SC 921