In an era where transparency and accessibility are touted as pillars of democracy, the advent of live streaming of court proceedings in India seemed like a leap forward towards ensuring open justice for all. While the concept of broadcasting court proceedings to the public is rooted in the noble pursuit of accessible justice, recent trends reveal a troubling reality.

Instead of fostering transparency and understanding, snippets of sensationalism, akin to “masala clips,” have emerged from these live streams, threatening to distort the very essence of justice. It’s high time for the Supreme Court of India to step in and regulate this system, ensuring that the true purpose of live streaming—facilitating transparent and equitable justice—is upheld without compromise.

Recent events have cast a harsh light on the vulnerability of live-streamed court proceedings to manipulation and misinterpretation. Even the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, found himself ensnared in the web of misrepresented clips, facing unwarranted backlash and abuse from the public. Amidst the cacophony of sensationalism, Dr. Chandrachud’s clarifying remarks during the 21stBiennial State Level Conference of Judicial Officers shed light on the reality behind the viral snippet. His explanation, rooted in a simple physical discomfort, starkly contrasts with the damaging narrative crafted by those quick to exploit isolated moments for their own agendas.

The responsibility in the dissemination of these snippets must be questioned. Judicial transparency, vital for a functioning democratic society, is undermined when selective clips are wielded as tools of mockery and misrepresentation.

It was though the landmark judgment in Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India, heralded the era of live streaming of courtroom proceedings, undoubtedly aimed at fostering transparency and public engagement with the judicial process. The Court’s assertion that live-streaming would extend the principle of open courts is commendable in theory. However, the reality paints a starkly different picture. While the intention was to empower the public with unfiltered access to legal proceedings, the unintended consequence has been the proliferation of misinformation and misunderstanding.

By relying on provisions such as Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 153B of the Civil Procedure Code, the Court emphasized the importance of transparency in both criminal and civil cases. Yet, the very essence of transparency is compromised when cherry-picked “masala clips” dominate social media platforms, distorting the public's perception of judicial proceedings.

The Court’s optimism that live-streaming would reduce reliance on second-hand narratives and foster informed opinions is overshadowed by the reality of rampant misinformation. Instead of enhancing understanding, these clips serve as fodder for sensationalism, eroding trust in the judicial process and sowing seeds of discord.

The laudable attempt to introduce live streaming of courtroom proceedings through the Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India judgment aimed at fostering transparency and accountability. However, the envisioned safeguards, including model rules prohibiting unauthorized reuse and redistribution, have proven to be toothless in the face of rampant exploitation.

Despite clear prohibitions on re-editing, redistribution, or creating derivative works without written permission, the digital landscape is rife with snippets of judicial proceedings distorted for sensationalism. From YouTube to Instagram, countless short clips emerge, portraying legal processes in a skewed light. Whether it’s magnifying heated arguments or embellishing mundane moments with clickbait titles, these snippets feed into a culture of spectacle, trivializing the solemnity of the judicial process.

What was intended as a tool for public engagement has been hijacked into meme material, exploited by content creators for views and clicks. In this environment, the original purpose of live streaming—to provide unfiltered access to legal proceedings—is lost amidst the clamor for viral content.

The failure to enforce these model rules underscores a glaring gap in oversight. While the judiciary has taken strides towards transparency, it has faltered in safeguarding the integrity of live streaming. The result is a landscape where judicial proceedings are reduced to fodder for entertainment, eroding public trust and undermining the sanctity of the legal system.

It’s time for a reckoning. The judiciary must acknowledge the perversion of live streaming and take decisive action to curb its exploitation. This requires not only stricter enforcement of existing rules but also proactive measures to combat the proliferation of sensationalized content. Only then can the true intent of live streaming—enhancing transparency and accountability—be realized, restoring dignity to the judicial process and reaffirming its pivotal role in society.

Thus, it’s time for a sober reassessment. While the principle of open courts is sacrosanct, its implementation must evolve to address the challenges of the digital age. This necessitates not only robust regulations to prevent the dissemination of misleading clips but also a concerted effort to educate the public on the nuances of legal proceedings.

The judiciary must take a proactive stance in safeguarding the integrity of live streaming, ensuring that it serves its intended purpose of fostering transparency and accountability. Anything less jeopardizes not only the credibility of the courts but also the very foundation of justice in our society.

As guardians of truth and integrity, it falls upon both the media and the public to uphold the sanctity of live-streamed court proceedings. The pursuit of justice demands more than just clickbait headlines and sensational snippets—it demands a commitment to accuracy, fairness, and the preservation of the judicial process. Only then can we ensure that the pillars of justice remain unshaken in the face of misinformation and sensationalism.

Sonal Gupta is an Advocate at the Supreme Court and Rahul Parashar at the High Court of Delhi.

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]