The High Court of Kerela, while considering the bail application filed by the journalist Sreekantan Nair, the Managing Director and Anchor of 24 News Channel, remarked that journalism is not for propagating hearsay news.
The case had its genesis in a debate show hosted by Sreekandan Nair. The debate discussed a patient with COVID-19-like symptoms who had supposedly visited the clinic where the doctor worked. The doctor said on the show that she had informed the District Health Services about the patient's condition. However, she concealed the fact that the patient did not test positive for the virus.
Based on the views expressed on the show the District Medical Officer filed a complaint against the TV anchor Sreekandan Nair and the doctor. The complaint charges the petitioners for spreading and publishing false information to create panic among the public about a supposed failure in public safety. Subsequently, a case was registered against them, accusing them of offenses punishable under section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Section 120 (O) of the Kerala Police Act.
While both the doctor and the journalist, approached the High Court, seeking anticipatory bail, Counsel representing the State, opposed the bail plea contesting that the act by the eminent figures like there was an attempt to mislead the people by telecasting or publishing program that supplies false and wrong information regarding Covid-19 pandemic.
The bench headed by Justice PV Kunhikrishnan, while hearing the bail plea, quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s lines, “The true function of Journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock it with wanted and unwanted impressions.”
He further stated that the emerging journalist community is neglecting these words and values and added that “Journalism is not for propagating hearsay news. What to publish and what not to publish are to be decided sensibly. The duty of journalists is, to tell the truth. In other words, journalists should go back to the actual facts before publishing news and thereafter make sure that it is not to tarnish the image of any individual or a section of people. Journalists should not go behind gossips, hearsay news, etc. Once the news is published in print media or visual media, you cannot take it back. The people who watch the news may not see the apology or correction news which is published or telecasted later. Therefore, there is a great responsibility to every journalist. Press is the backbone of democracy. Every journalist should start their day remembering the fact that, they are the successors of the legends like Swedeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai and Kesari Balakrishna Pillai. The 2nd petitioner is one of the senior journalists in the State. He should show the path to his younger generation. I leave it there.”
Justice Kunhikrishnan stated that there was a need to restraint when publishing any kind of news related to public health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, so as to maintain their morale. He said, "When a pandemic like Covid-19 is spreading every day, the Health Department is doing their level best. Pointing out a single incident and making the discussion about that on a channel cannot be appreciated. That will only affect the morale of the health workers. This is not journalism."
However, the Court granted bail to both, the Journalist and the doctor while imposing certain stringent conditions.