High Court Slaps Fine on Newspaper Over Incomplete Judge Inquiry Report

The Karnataka High Court recently issued a ruling concerning a news report published by The New Indian Express. The report covered an inquiry into a senior judicial officer accused of engaging in an inappropriate relationship. As a consequence of the way the story was handled, the court imposed a substantial fine of ₹10 lakh on the newspaper.

The court noted a crucial omission in the report: it failed to mention that the full bench of the High Court did not accept the inquiry report. This omission skewed the presentation of facts. Justice NS Sanjay Gowda, who presided over the case, emphasized that the article wrongly portrayed the accusations against the judge as established facts. Such misrepresentation could severely damage the reputations of the individuals involved.

The judge stressed the importance of protecting the privacy of the accused, especially when allegations have not been proven. He highlighted the unfairness of publishing sensitive information without affording the accused parties an opportunity to defend themselves.

The case involved a retired senior judicial officer facing allegations of misconduct with staff and financial irregularities. Although some charges were proven, the Administrative Committee appointed to review the matter did not accept the inquiry report. Unfortunately, the newspaper neglected to include this crucial information in its report.

Shortly after the article’s publication, the full court of the High Court dropped the charges against the judge. This decision underscored the inadequacy of the newspaper’s reporting and its failure to present a balanced view of the situation.

The court expressed disappointment in The New Indian Express’s conduct, stating that it fell short of the standards expected from a responsible newspaper. The judge criticized the reporters and editors for their role in publishing the article, noting their lack of sensitivity and professionalism.

The court highlighted that the decision not to accept the inquiry report had been made six months prior to the article’s publication. Despite this, the newspaper failed to include this crucial development in its report. The court found it perplexing that such vital information was overlooked, especially considering the newspaper’s responsibility to provide accurate and comprehensive coverage.

The court emphasized that the newspaper could not absolve itself of responsibility by claiming ignorance of the Administrative Committee’s decision. It stressed that a responsible newspaper should have ensured that all relevant facts were presented in its reporting, particularly in sensitive matters like this one.

As a consequence of its poor reporting, the court imposed a significant financial penalty on the owner of The New Indian Express. The fine, amounting to ₹10 lakh, is to be paid to the Karnataka Legal Services Authority within two months.

Additionally, the court directed the High Court to conduct an inquiry into how the inquiry report was leaked to the newspaper. This investigation aims to determine whether any breaches of confidentiality occurred and to prevent similar incidents in the future.

In conclusion, the Karnataka High Court’s decision to penalize The New Indian Express serves as a reminder of the importance of responsible journalism. The court’s ruling underscores the need for accuracy, fairness, and sensitivity in reporting, particularly when dealing with sensitive legal matters.