THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Supreme Court verdict on privacy will surely impact the way media function, experts say. However, the extent and manner in which it will pan out will depend on future interpretation of the privacy principle.
“It is a historic judgment that makes a huge difference to our Constitution,” said Sashi Kumar, media guru. “It reestablishes privacy as a fundamental right, of course within reasonable restrictions. We live in a time of intrusion of privacy by the media, not necessarily by just the formal media. The verdict enables the aggrieved citizen to seek recourse through law. This marks a qualitative shift to our citizenship. We have the Right to Information Act, but when there is no right to privacy, it becomes meaningless.”
Media will be impacted without doubt, said social media activist Harish Vasudevan. “However, it remains to be seen to what extent the impact will be as this verdict opens up a debate on what is private and what is public. The right to privacy is now a part of Article 21 but subject to reasonable restrictions,” he said.
“Until now defamation laws were the only protection from media intrusion. But now, when there is a conflict between Article 19 and Article 21, the latter will prevail. So there is no doubt that there is going to be an impact on all media,” he added.
“There is still ambiguity on how the verdict will affect the functioning of the media,” said senior advocate George Philip. However, the first to be affected would be the social media, where there is a tendency to conduct irresponsible campaigns. Victims will now have the protection of this verdict to seek legal remedy,” Philip said.
However, Supreme Court lawyer and constitutional expert Kaleeswaram Raj had a differing interpretation of Thursday’s verdict. When there is a breach of the fundamental right to privacy, the High Court as well as the Supreme Court may now have grounds to intervene, he said.
However, the media as a whole does not come under the ambit of State assets. To say that a media house that is a private institution has breached the privacy of an individual, it has to be recognised as a statutory right and not a fundamental right, he added.
For example, why is the media not allowed to name a rape victim? Because this is a statutory provision. Once that provision is there and you name the victim, then it becomes an offence.
In other matters, despite Thursday’s judgment, where a person feels that his privacy has been intruded into, he can only give a complaint to the Press Council. However, the Press Council Act is a weak statute and does not empower the council much.
But the Press Council will have to take congnisance of the fact that privacy is now a fundamental right, he said.