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India court urged to let journalists cover proceedings

Reporters in Kerala denied access to courtrooms since July following clashes

This statement was originally published on on 23 September 2016.

International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director Barbara Trionfi this week sent a letter to the chief justice of the High Court of Kerala, India expressing concern over continued restrictions on journalists' right to cover court proceedings.

In the letter, which was also directed to the chief minister of Kerala's government, Trionfi noted that journalists have been denied access to courts in the southern Indian state for months and must rely on information provided by public relations officers.

"This, however, is not a substitute for independent reporting," she wrote. "A free and independent judiciary and a free and independent press are two of the most important elements of any democratic society and both must be defended vigorously."

The restrictions were imposed in July 2016 after a section of lawyers of the High Court clashed with journalists over a news report criticising the Kerala High Court Bar Association's stance on a case involving allegations of sexual misconduct by a local attorney.

The full text of the letter appears below.

22 September 2016

Hon'ble Mr. Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar
Chief Justice of Kerala
High Court of Kerala
Ernakulam, Cochin 682 031
E-mail: [email protected]: Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan

Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of Kerala
Kerala, India
E-mail: [email protected]

Honourable Mr. Chief Justice:

On behalf of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of publishers, editors and leading journalists for media freedom, I am writing to you express my concern over continued restrictions on the right of journalists to access courtrooms in the state of Kerala.

As you will be aware, on July 27 IPI released a statement condemning acts of violence against journalists that have occurred at the Kerala High Court and calling on court officials to ensure that journalists are allowed to report on proceedings without interference.

Unfortunately, it is my understanding that the situation has not changed and that journalists continue to be denied access to various courts in the state of Kerala, including the Kerala High Court.

It is imperative that the media be able to cover the workings of the judicial system. This coverage performs an essential watchdog function on behalf of the public, helping to ensure that court proceedings are conducted fairly and impartially and to the highest standards of justice.

I understand that Kerala's journalists must currently rely upon information provided to them by the Public Relations Officer of the Kerala High Court. This, however, is not a substitute for independent reporting.

A free and independent judiciary and a free and independent press are two of the most important elements of any democratic society and both must be defended vigorously.

We therefore respectfully urge court officials once again to lift any restrictions on journalists' ability to report from Kerala courtrooms and to ensure that journalists in Kerala are able to cover the judiciary without fear of attack or other form of retaliation.

Thank you very much for your attention to this important matter.

Sincere regards,

Barbara Trionfi
Executive Director
International Press Institute

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