The Delhi High Court has constituted a committee to look into media reporting from courts, and among the issues being considered is the (recently) controversial issue of live tweeting from courts, reports LiveLaw, which spotted the notice.

The committee has sought comments from the general public within 21 days (of 31st of August)…so, by the 21st of September. The notice is available here. No emails, it seems, but there is a google form that you may fill out, here.

This is important, because it will enable better reporting from court, especially live reporting on important issues, and we encourage MediaNama readers to file their responses. Urgently, though.

MediaNama’s submission is here.

A few points

1. Lawyers versus journalists: At the core of this issue is the problem that Lawyers are allowed to carry mobile phones in court, while journalists are not, and lawyers have been live tweeting court proceedings. This gives lawyers a disproportionate advantage over journalists, while reporting from court.

The other issue is that lawyers are always closer to the action, and – and I cant understand this – but almost all judges invariably (and infuriatingly) refuse to use the microphones placed in front of them.

2. Misreporting: There are genuine challenges of someone misreporting of court proceedings while live tweeting, which can impact the perception of what is going on. Lawyers are likely to be more careful than others, because, lets face it, arguments are long and complex in courts, and it takes a bit of experience to understand what exactly is going on. That said, that doesn’t mean that reporting itself is accurate: Here’s one where we corrected reporting by mainstream publications, based on inputs from lawyers in the court.

3. Attention because of one case: While this issue came to light more recently because of the Right to Privacy case, where lawyers Prasanna S, Gautam Bhatia, Kritika Bharadwaj, Raman Chima, as well as SFLC.in were live tweeting from the Supreme Court.

Note that this is not new: during the 66A case hearings, I remember lawyer J Sai Deepak tweeting from court almost every day. I couldn’t even take my phone inside.

4. Completeness of information and context: Frankly, court reporting often doesn’t do justice to what is being discussed in court. Court reporters have run from hearing to hearing, because they may be reporting on several cases at the same time, and thus, only catch a fraction of each discussion. If their job is to disseminate information to the public with accuracy, depth and context, it’s unlikely that accredited reporters can do this consistently. They just have too much work. I remember a journalist that I met during the 66A proceedings who stayed for an hour, and missed some of the most important updates from court, and filed a largely vague story.

I’ve reported on several cases, and it’s always been one hearing at a time: this has allowed us to get depth and give context – our Hot News case coverage is unparalleled in depth and context, because I was noting and reporting almost everything. While most media has failed to do this, lawyers, who already have context, have done a great job of disseminating nuanced debates to the public. There is no better example than the Right to Privacy case.

5. Accreditation: While I was able to attend the hearings where the nine judge bench was constituted, I was disallowed entry the very next day, despite having a form signed by an Advocate-on-record, and all necessary documentation. I was told by the Supreme Court PRO that only accredited journalists were being allowed, because of a fear of overcrowding in court.

A question also being asked in the form is: should court reporting be limited to only accredited journalists? If the same norms had been applicable earlier, this story would not have been written. Our notes from the SC in the 66A case were pretty exhaustive (see this and this)