New Delhi: Media Houses in the country are concerned after the latest ruling of the Supreme Court making it mandatory for journalists, covering proceedings in the Apex Court, to possess a law degree.

The media organizations have opined, while it would be practically difficult to meet the norms, they are of the view that journalists who have been responsibly doing their job must not be barred from covering the court proceedings just because they are not law graduates.

Sanjay Gupta, Editor, Dainik Jagran, published by Jagran Prakashan Ltd, said: “As an editor, I will anyway not hire a fresher to report on Supreme Court judgements. However, I don't think there should be a prerequisite for reporters to have a degree in law. If reporters have adequate experience and are reporting judgements intelligently, and if the editors don't have an issue, I don't think it's fair for the court to then have stringent norms.”

“I don't want to comment much on the revised norm to withdraw the accreditation without giving any reason. Withdrawal of accreditation should be a bilateral dialogue between the authority and the newspaper. The editors have a right to know when a particular legal correspondent's accreditation is withdrawn,” he added.

The Supreme Court can bar any correspondent from coverage without offering any reasons under the new rules.

The new Supreme Court reporting norms, if enforced, will result in 80 percent of the journalists who have been covering proceedings being disqualified.

Issued by the court on Saturday, the norms are being made that permanent and temporary accredited print journalists have a professional law degree and at least seven years of experience. Electronic media reporters need, apart from the law degree, at least three-and-a-half-year of experience. The circular did not set a deadline for the norms to come into force. Court officials didn't throw light on when the circular would come into effect, when asked on Tuesday.

The new norms follow instances in which faults were found in coverage.

Two of these arose from coverage of the Vodafone tax dispute. Vodafone lawyer Harish Salve complained to the Supreme Court that a news agency report on August 10 had misquoted him. Salve had argued that Vodafone could “avoid” tax as tax avoidance was permissible under law. Indian income-tax authorities have alleged that Vodafone evaded tax by structuring its USD 11.2 billion transaction to buy out Hutchison's Indian cellular business through tax-saving routes. Salve spent more than a day demonstrating to the bench the difference between tax avoidance and evasion, and that his client had acted in accordance with law.

The court sought a response from the agency on an application made by Salve after the agency's report.

On August 18, agency's lawyer Shyam Divan issued an unconditional apology to the court, Vodafone and Salve.

Chief Justice SH Kapadia's three-judge bench asked the news agency to file a detailed affidavit explaining whether its reporter was present in the court at the time Salve made his argument. The court reportedly observed that norms for journalists needed to be revisited in light of the incident and what it said were other recent inaccurate reports.

Previously, Kapadia had expressed displeasure at a December 15 news report in a national daily that said the judiciary wanted to retain 1 percent of the `2,500 crore deposit made by Vodafone to the court's registry.

The report suggested that a “cash-strapped” judiciary was trying to source funds from “novel” methods such as these.

Kapadia had then said: “People write whatever they want.” But the court did not initiate any action against the reporter or the newspaper.

There are currently 14 permanent accredited correspondents in the Supreme Court and approximately 80 temporary accredited journalists, according to the court's officials.

Editors of Newspaper and television editors said the requirement for a law degree might be excessive and that the unilateral provision in the norms to withdraw a journalist's accreditation was not desirable.

“Reporters need not have a law degree to report on the Supreme Court. They need to have strong news sense and an acquaintance of legal nuances,” said Arnab Goswami, editor-in- chief, Times Now.

“The new norms seem overly restrictive and will make it more difficult for the media to cover the Supreme Court properly,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu. “While I share the concerns of the honourable judges that court proceedings are sometimes not re- ported accurately, the solution lies in proper editorial supervision by our newspapers and TV channels, rather than by specifying, with mathematical precision, the onerous qualifications court reporters must possess in order to be given access to a court room.“

“In the absence of access, there may actually be a greater likelihood of inaccurate reporting as journalists will be forced to rely on one-sided accounts of courtroom proceedings by lawyers representing their clients,” he said.

(JPN/Agencies)