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Interview with Ryan School Murder Accused: Did The Television Channels Cross the Lakshman Rekha?

In the aftermath of the murder of seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur in the toilet of Ryan International School recently, many television channels carried interview with the bus conductor and the prime accused, Ashok Kumar, and concluded that he had confessed his role in the murder.   The accused is in police custody, and his so-called confession to the media would stand no legal scrutiny, let alone media’s interview with him – obviously arranged by the police – compromising his right to silence, protected by Article 20(3) of the Constitution.

Article 20(3) says no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Specifically, the television channels which broadcast the interview with Ashok Kumar, have violated the March 11, 2016 order of the Chairperson of the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, Justice R.V.Raveendran.  In this decision, the NBSA was called upon to decide the complaints relating to Times Now Report on the interview with the accused in an eve-teasing allegation, broadcast on August 24, 2015.

The NBSA relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Manu Sharma v State (NCT of Delhi) (2010) in which it was held: “Presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption annd should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending.  In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21 of the Constitution…..The freedom of speech protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution has to be carefully and cautiously used, so as to avoid interference with the administration of justice, leading to undesirable results in the matters sub-judice  before the Courts.”

The NBSA also cited Section 2 of the Principles of Self-Regulation as follows: “News channels must strive to ensure that allegations are not portrayed as fact and charges are not conveyed as an act of guilt.”

NBSA further said in its order: “NBSA is not unmindful of the reason why public spirited media sometimes go overboard in their crusade against crime and criminals.  The easy answer is TRPs….Shoddy investigation, slipshod prosecution and the proverbial delays in courts make it very difficult to prove guilt.”

The NBSA found that the interview of the accused by the broadcaster’s reporter and its telecast violated sections (1) (2) and (3) of the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and Guidelines (1) (2) (3) of Specific Guidelines Governing Reportage and Guidelines  (4) and (6) of Specific Guidelines for Reporting Court Proceedings.

The broadcaster was directed to reiterate its commitment to uphold every individual’s right to fair trial and reputation, while reporting about any crime or offence under investigation or pending in court.  The broadcaster was imposed a fine of Rs.50000 payable to NBA within seven days.  The video of the programme, if hosted on the website of Times Now or any other links should be removed immediately and confirmed to NBSA, the order held.

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