Indian Supreme Courts new norms:Law degree compulsory for legal correspondents

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Sabir shah in THE NEWS

If the widely anticipated new Indian Supreme Court reporting norms are enforced in true letter, the new ruling is likely to disqualify at least 80 per cent of the journalists covering the Apex Court proceedings in the world s biggest democracy.
According to Thursday s (August 25, 2011) web edition ( of India s Daily Mint, a business newspaper published by Hindustan Times Media (the publishers of The Hindustan Times) in collaboration with the prestigious American broadsheet Wall Street Journal, the recently promulgated Supreme Court s revised norms for accreditation of the legal correspondents in the Indian apex court makes a law degree mandatory for journalists covering the top court proceedings.

The website states: Issued by the court on Saturday, the norms require that permanent and temporary accredited print journalists have a professional law degree and at least seven years of experience. Electronic media reporters need, apart from the law degree, at least three-and-a-half-years of experience. The circular did not set a deadline for the norms to come into force. Court officials didn t throw light on when the circular would come into effect, when asked on Tuesday. The new norms follow instances in which faults were found in coverage. Two of these arose from coverage of the Vodafone tax dispute. Vodafone lawyer Harish Salve complained to the Supreme Court that a Press Trust of India (PTI) report on 10 August had misquoted him.

It further said: Salve had argued that Vodafone could avoid tax as tax avoidance was permissible under law. Indian income-tax authorities have alleged that Vodafone evaded tax by structuring its $11.2 billion transaction to buy out Hutchison s Indian cellular business through tax-saving routes. Salve spent more than a day demonstrating to the bench the difference between tax avoidance and evasion, and that his client had acted in accordance with the law. The court sought a response from PTI on an application made by Salve after the agency s report.

The reported: Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia s three-judge bench asked PTI to file a detailed affidavit explaining whether its reporter was present in the court at the time Salve made his argument. The court reportedly observed that norms for journalists needed to be revisited in light of the incident and what it said were other recent inaccurate reports. Previously, Kapadia had expressed displeasure at a 15 December news report in a national daily that said the judiciary wanted to retain one per cent of the Rs2,500 crore deposit made by Vodafone to the court s registry.

It further read: The report suggested that a cash-strapped judiciary was trying to source funds from novel methods such as these. Kapadia had then said: People write whatever they want. But the court did not initiate any action against the reporter or the newspaper. Different benches of the court have, in the past, pointed to inaccurate or sensational news reports. However, Mint could not immediately ascertain the immediate reasons for the revision of the norms.

It is noteworthy that it is for the first time in the Indian journalism and the judicial history that a law degree has been declared mandatory for all reporters covering the Apex Court proceedings, as till now, reporters without a law degree were entitled to get a temporary six-month pass and cover the court proceedings.

While Clause 6 of the rules deals with temporary accreditation for working journalists desiring to report regularly the Supreme Court proceedings, Clause 8 deals with temporary reporting facility for journalists who can access the court for a day/short duration or for a specific case.

Clause 10 says grant of accreditation will be the sole discretion of the Chief Justice of India and his decision in this regard shall be deemed final and binding on all.

Meanwhile, Clause 11 says that the accreditation, whether permanent or temporary, can be withdrawn, at any time, without assigning any reason.

The new requirement of the Indian Supreme Court has evoked mixed response from leading journalists and solicitors across the border.

The Bar and Bench News Network of India, a comprehensive news and analysis portal for the country s legal professionals, states in one of its recent editions: R. Jagannathan, Editor-in-Chief, Firstpost said: The requirement that Supreme Court proceedings can only be covered by people with a law degree defies common sense. If only chartered accountants can comment on company results, if only doctors can report on medicines and hospitals, all reporters would need to do another five years of specialised courses – which is a waste.

The portal of the Indian legal professionals, further quotes R. Jagannathan as saying: You do an MBBS to become a doctor, not to write about medicine. Restricting court reporting to law degree holders would mean restricting the profession to a closed cabal of law insiders. The law expert can also miss the obvious – since ultimately court decisions need to pass the common sense test, which requires no law degree. If the reasoning behind this new requirement is that reporters sometimes misrepresent what the court says or rules, maybe the Supreme Court should mandate a short, one-day course for court reporters which focuses on the do s and don ts or court reporting. A law degree is a waste of everybody s time.

The portal maintained: Speaking to Indian Express former Chief Justice of India V N Khare said: This is not fair. When on one side you are talking of transparency…why is even a law degree necessary? You, as a correspondent, are not going to the SC to argue a case but to report. Journalism is a profession by itself. So when you report a matter concerning engineering, do you as a reporter need to have an engineering degree? So how many degrees do you need?

It quoted P. George Giri, Advocate-on-Record in Supreme Court, as viewing: It is a good move on the part of the Supreme Court of India. Prevention is better than cure. The norms introduced by the Supreme Court are only a reasonable restriction on the press freedom. Otherwise, there is every possibility to spread unwanted news by the media; by the reports of the young and energetic journalists, without properly understanding the court procedures.

The Bar and Bench News Network of India also quoted Rohit Panikker, correspondent with the Times of India, as asserting: It s important that every journalist knows in depth about what he is reporting; and ideally, a law background enables them to give the story a better perspective over straight reportage. But then, that also brings forward the question of what would happen to those journalists who have built their reputation over the years in reporting SC proceedings without having a law degree. If that s the case, does a film reporter require a filmmaking degree to go about his work?


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  1. Wonderful weblog!

    hotshot bald cop

    August 29, 2011 at 11:01 pm

  2. […] Indian Supreme Courts new norms:Law degree compulsory for legal correspondents ( […]

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