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Kerala High Court Modifies Interim Gag Order Against ReporterTV On Reporting Against Dileep's Brother-In-Law

Hannah M Varghese
23 May 2022 3:15 PM GMT
Kerala High Court Modifies Interim Gag Order Against ReporterTV On Reporting Against Dileeps Brother-In-Law

Reporter TV Chief Editor MV Nikesh Kumar

Reporter TV must not engage in sensationalism or report any fact to forge any impression against any accused or witnesses

The Kerala High Court recently modified the interim ex-parte gag order against Reporter TV restricting it from publishing/broadcasting/telecasting 'any item' concerning actor Dileep's brother in law, Suraj while reporting about the murder conspiracy case or the 2017 actor sexual assault case for three weeks.

A Division Bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Sophy Thomas vacated the impugned order to the extent to which it has restrained the appellant from reporting 'any item' relating to Suraj noting that the said gag order imposed a restriction that was beyond the reasonableness established in Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd & Ors v. SEBI & Anr by the Supreme Court.

"A direction not to publish/broadcast/ telecast 'any item' concerning or relating to the appellant', certainly travels beyond the reasonableness of the restrictions sanctioned by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Sahara (supra) and other judgments covering the field. The term 'any item' is not merely very vague, but would also cause an unfair fetter on the Press to make a fair reporting within the parameters of law, and therefore, we feel it necessary to modify the same, though to a very limited extent."

However, the Court made it transparently clear that Reporter TV must not engage in sensationalism or report any fact to forge any impression against any accused or witnesses in these cases, particularly in the 2017 case where the trial court is conducting in-camera proceedings.

"They shall not engage in sensationalism, or pursue any line of reportage intended to forge an impression against the first respondent or any other accused or witness with respect to their involvement or otherwise in the crime; and without, in any manner, commenting about the 'in camera' proceedings in S.C.No. 118/2018 pending before the Additional Special Sessions Court (SPE/CBI) III, Ernakulam, except in full deference to the earlier orders of the said court"

The appellant had moved the Court challenging the interim order of a Single Judge through Advocates Kaleeswaram Raj, C.P Udhayabhanu, Thulasi K. Raj and Shilpa Soman contending that this amounts to a complete ban and operates as a violation of the well-recognised principles of the freedom of the Press to report and publish the truth.

Senior Advocate George Poonthottam, Navaneeth Krishna and Senior Government Pleader Bijoy Chandran appeared for the respondents in the matter.

The Court only contemplated on the limited issue of the parameters which are to be kept in mind when a news media reports on an ongoing criminal trial or investigation.

The Supreme Court in Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd & Ors v. SEBI & Anr (2012) 10 SCC 603) had declared that orders postponing reporting of certain phases of a criminal trial can be applied for a short duration and solely in cases of "real and substantial risk of prejudice" to the proper administration of justice or to the fairness of trial.

It was hence obvious that there cannot be a continuous interdiction but only for the postponement of broadcast so that the requirements of a fair trial are ensured.

The judiciary has repeatedly dealt with the issue of balance between reporting facts relating to a crime and the unexpendable requirements to be maintained for a fair trial. However, the Court noted that the Press has a duty to inform the public truthfully about the crimes and the facts relating to investigation, arrest and other related developments.

In this background and perspective, the Court held that it was certain that the requirements of a fair trial and investigation need to be maintained sacrosanct, while protecting the right of the Press to report truthfully and faithfully.

"The press certainly cannot be allowed to run amok and will have to be imposed with reasonable restrictions, so as to make sure that every trial and investigation is conducted fairly, openly and above board."

In the 2017 actor assault case, the appellant admitted that the Sessions Judge had already issued gag orders and affirmed that it will fully conform to the same while making any news broadcast or telecast. However, with respect to the murder conspiracy case, the investigation was still going on and the acme question was to what extent can the appellant be allowed to report on the same.

The Bench came to the conclusion that the appellant must refrain from engaging in sensationalism and report within the contours permitted by law.

"It is the well-accepted thumb rule that the Press shall not indulge in sensationalism; or in speculating upon the guilt or otherwise of any accused or other individual; or to create an opinion about the comportment or character of a person involved in the Trial, and not to embellish, by impelling or sponsoring an opinion they seek. Though the Press has a duty to inform the public, the publication of lurid details and other sensitive investigative inputs, which are within the sole jurisdiction of the courts to decide upon, certainly require to be put on a tight leash."

It was also directed that Reporter TV and other members of the Press follow the "width of the postponement orders" established in Sahara (Supra) to avoid the hazard of intrusion and interference with the trial/Investigation.

However, regarding the direction in the impugned order issued against the State Police Chief - to ensure that no information regarding the investigation be leaked out to anybody by the Investigating Officers, the Bench was fully in affirmation of the same and resultantly upheld it.

Case Title: Indo-Asian News Channel Pvt. Ltd. v. T.N. Suraj & Ors.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 238

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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