New Delhi: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday termed the attack on journalists at Patiala House Courts as a "terrible exception" and decried the presence of crowds inside court premises which he said creates an "oppressive environment".
He said the courts must remain "detached" and should not be carried by issues or trends of the moment as anything on the contrary would be a threat to free speech and a fair trial.
"It was a terrible exception what happened. Normally people in the public place find media as their natural ally. The whole idea of getting the media dragged into contemporaneous controversy and then attacking it physically is absolutely unacceptable, anywhere, in courts so more particularly," he said.
Jaitley, who also holds the Information and Broadcasting portfolio, was speaking at the International Press Institute (IPI) India Award For Excellence in Journalism award here.
He stressed that more serious the offence, "stronger” must be the avenues of defence while underlining that “exceptions" like the Patiala House court incident would act as a reminder to keep the media as a detached third party. "I think the idea of crowds in court is itself not acceptable. The more serious the offence the stronger must be the avenues of defence. And if protests within court premises create an oppressive environment in which bar associations sometimes pass resolution that we won't appear for so and so accused.
"It is not merely a threat to free speech but it also becomes a threat to a free and fair trial because an oppressive environment is created in judicial institutions.
Courts must remain detached. Courts can't be carried by issues of the moment. Courts can't be carried by the trends itself,” he said.
Calling upon the conventional media to "stand up", Jaitley said the danger of proliferation of multiple avenues of media was of the "desire" to hog the limelight by doing or saying something "controversial".
He contended that in a robust democracy, the width of the media is so large that almost every viewpoint finds its mention in some place of the media. "But one obvious danger of this is its impact on institutions. It's that the desire to be before the floodlights become so large that the tendency to do something or say something which is controversial, which is out of the ordinary increases," he said.
To make his point, the minister cited cases of hardworking legislators who find no reflection of their work in the media, while someone who says something "outlandish" generates buzz.
"For somebody who has done something sensational or said something outlandish obviously it has greater charm on the media because that adds to creating a controversy that the media itself would generate," he said.
On the occasion, M Shajil Kumar of Malayala Manorama was conferred the award for his outstanding work on “endangered tribal communities" who live on the slopes of Western Ghats in Kerala. The award comprises a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh, a trophy and a citation.
The jury, which was headed by former Chief Justice of India A S Anand, unanimously selected Kumar's exclusive report, out of several entries. The jury included N Ravi, Chairman IPI India chapter and Director, The Hindu; M K Razdan, Editor-in-Chief, the Press Trust of India; and Riyad Mathew, Senior Assistant Editor Malayala Manorama.
Importantly, Jaitley noted that there would be many others like him who "enjoy what happens in the evening" (TV shows) but "I think it is also taking its toll and therefore it is time for conventional media to stand up and strike".
"In campaign journalism it is very difficult to remain a detached third party because now TRPs depend on campaign journalism and not on objective reporting... who participates on which channel depends on the nature of the campaign,” he said.
Jaitley observed that conventional definition of news “no longer holds true" and that what makes news is “predominantly what is captured in the camera”.