20 March 2023 6:50 AM GMT
A local Court at Kozhikode on Saturday granted pre-arrest bail to the Executive Editor and other employees of Asianet News in connection with the allegations of airing a 'staged interview' of a minor girl who was made to say that she was a victim of drug abuse and sexual exploitation.Finding that there were no serious allegations against the petitioners herein, the Special Judge Priya...
A local Court at Kozhikode on Saturday granted pre-arrest bail to the Executive Editor and other employees of Asianet News in connection with the allegations of airing a 'staged interview' of a minor girl who was made to say that she was a victim of drug abuse and sexual exploitation.
Finding that there were no serious allegations against the petitioners herein, the Special Judge Priya K., observed,
"They are the officials of a news channel and they are apprehending that they will be put in jail, for broadcasting a news item. In a democratic country like lndia, which gives liberty to the fourth estate which are press and media, media personnel cannot be put in jail alleging criminal offences. If at all any offence is committed by them, it can only be decided after a fair trial".
The prosecution case was that the accused persons had prepared a fabricated report and broadcasted the said news item namely 'Narcotic is a dirty business' on November 10, 2022, with an intention to spread a misunderstanding amongst the general public that all government schools are under the influence of narcotic drugs. In the video, a child in school uniform had given information of commission of offences under the provisions of Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act, 2012 (POCSO Act). However, the petitioners had not informed the same to the authorities. It was alleged that the said interview was a staged one, and that the accused had impersonated the POCSO victim in the video to create the news.
It was contended by Advocates P.V. Hari and Sushama M. on behalf of the petitioners that a false case had been foisted on them and that they were innocent of the same. It was averred that a complaint had been submitted by the father of the victim girl under the provisions of the POCSO Act. "From the incident itself it was understood that there was misuse of drugs by the new generation," it was averred. Pursuant to the Government itself appealing to the News Channels and other associations to start a campaign against the misuse of narcotic drug, Asianet News had started the segment 'Narcotics is a dirty business' to caution the general public about the drug misuse, which was telecast in six segments continuously for six days. The counsels averred that such bold reporting was not liked by some authorities, and that was why the MLA P.V. Anwar had preferred the complaint against the petitioners. It was submitted that at the time of registration of the FIR, only bailable offences had been incorporated, but the petitioners feared the incorporation of non-bailable offences later to put them in jail. It was submitted that the de facto complainant was the MLA of the ruling party, and that the petitioners feared they would be kept in illegal confinement if taken into custody. It was on these grounds that the petitioners filed the application for grant of anticipatory bail. The petitioners also undertook to abide by any bail condition in the event of being granted pre-arrest bail.
The Special Public Prosecutor on the other hand argued that the petitioners had committed offences of failure to report POCSO offences, forgery, cheating by personation, abetment of offences, criminal conspiracy and use of child by adult for illegal activities. It was submitted that although notices had been issued to the petitioners for appearance before the police and for production of documents, the same had not been done. It was further submitted that the police intended to file a report to add Section 23 (4) of POCSO Act, and that custodial interrogation of the accused was necessary for collection of evidence. It was emphasized that the petitioners would intimidate and influence the witnesses if they are released on bail.
The Court of Additional District and Sessions for Trial of Cases relating to Atrocities and Sexual Violence towards Women and Children noted that there was no serious allegations against the petitioners, and no allegations of grievous offences, as contemplated under the POCSO Act. It thus discerned that pre-arrest bail could be granted to the petitioners in this case. It added that if the Investigating Officer required the presence of the petitioners for the purpose of investigation, a condition could be imposed for assuring the presence of the petitioners before the Investigating Officer.
"Considering all these aspects and also taking into account of the nature of allegation, the severity of punishment, the mode of registering the crime, remote chance of the petitioners in interfering with the investigation, influencing the witnesses, and also fleeing from justice, pre arrest bail can be granted to the petitioners on condition," the Court declared.
The petitioners were thus directed to be released on bail in the event of their arrest, on executing a bond of Rs. 1,00,000/- with two solvent sureties. It was stipulated that the petitioners ought to cooperate with the investigation, and also for taking evidence, and appear before the Investigating Officer as and when required. It was further stipulated that the petitioners ought not to make any inducement, threat or promise to any person acquainted with the facts, so as to dissuade them from disclosing the facts to the Court or to any police officer. The Court added that any violation of the said conditions would be a reason for cancellation of the bail suo motu by the Court or on the application of the Investigating Officer.
Case Title: Sindu Suryakumar & Ors. v. State of Kerala