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[BREAKING] Some Reporting Of Republic TV & Times Now In SSR Case 'Prima Facie Contemptuous', Says Bombay High Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
18 Jan 2021 9:31 AM GMT
[BREAKING] Some Reporting Of Republic TV & Times Now In SSR Case Prima Facie Contemptuous, Says Bombay High Court
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The Bombay High Court on Monday held that the media coverage done by the Republic TV and Times Now against Mumbai police in the case pertaining to death of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput is prima facie contemptuous."Criticism of city police by TV media was unfair, in view of the material placed on record. The city police was at the very basic stage of probe", the High Court said.Bombay...

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The Bombay High Court on Monday held that the media coverage done by the Republic TV and Times Now against Mumbai police in the case pertaining to death of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput is prima facie contemptuous.
"Criticism of city police by TV media was unfair, in view of the material placed on record. The city police was at the very basic stage of probe", the High Court said.


A Division Bench comprising  Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni observed that the media ought to avoid discussions, debates relating to criminal investigation and should confine only to informative reports in such matters in public interest.

The Bench however refrained from taking any action against the channels and proceeded to issue guidelines for reporting of ongoing investigations in the future.

Disposing of a batch of PILs seeking regulation of media trial, the bench laid down several guidelines on reporting on crime.

Some of the key observations are :

  • Trial by media interferes with the criminal investigation by police.
  • Media trial runs counter to the program code framed under the Cable TV Act.
  • Press Council of India guidelines on crime reporting made applicable to electronic media as well.
  • Media should observe restraint in discussions about on going investigation so as not to prejudice the rights of the accused and witness
  • Publishing a confession alleged to have been made by an accused as if it is an admissible evidence without letting the public know about its inadmissibility should be avoided
  • While reporting suicide, to suggest that the person was of weak character, should be avoided
  • Reconstructing of crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information should be avoided
  • Investigative agencies are entitled to keep secrecy about the on going investigation and they are under no obligation to divulge information.

 


What Kind Of Reporting Amounts To 'Media Trial'? Bombay High Court Gives Guidelines

During the hearing of the matter over last six months, the High Court had expressed concerns over the practice of "media trial".

It asked the media not to cross boundaries, and indicated that it will lay down guidelines.

"If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge, what is the use of us? Why are we here", the bench had asked the Advocates representing Republic TV.

'Asking Public About Who To Be Arrested Is Investigative Journalism?' Bombay HC Asks Republic TV In SSR Media Trial Case

"Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested?

When a case is under investigation and the issue is whether it's a homicide or a suicide and a channel is saying it is murder, is that investigative journalism?", the bench had asked Advocate Malvika Trivedi, Republic TV's lawyer.

The bench told the channel's lawyer "investigative powers are given to the police under the CrPC".

Media Highly Polarized Now; Journalists Were Responsible & Neutral In Past, Bombay High Court Says While Hearing SSR Media Trial Case


The Bombay High Court was pronouncing its verdict on a clutch of PILs seeking guidelines for "ethical reporting and responsible journalism," by all form of media, especially at the investigation stage.

The first PIL was filed by eight retired IPS officers, in September, last year. They were irked by the manner in which the Mumbai Police force's reputation was being tarnished in a highly politicised investigation and a 'trial by media' into film star Sushant Singh Rajput's death by suicide.

This is probably the first time top officers (all Director General level and the time of retirement) - M N Singh, P S Pasricha, K Subramanyam, D N Jadhav, D Shivanandan, Sanjeev Dayal, S C Mathur and K P Raghuvanshi- have approached the court.

The other PILs are filed by filmmaker Nilesh Navalkha and others, Advocate Asim Suhas Sarode (party-in-person), an NGO named 'In Pursuit of Justice' and beleaguered film producer Prerna Arora.

During the hearings, the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni had made strong oral remarks criticizing the pattern of reporting a few media houses followed in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. "We would like [the] media not to cross boundaries," the bench had observed.

If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge, what is the use of us? Why are we here"

"If you are so interested in unearthing the truth, you should have looked at the CrPC! Ignorance of law is no excuse"

The bench also asked the lawyer of Republic TV if asking the public who should be arrested in a case is part of investigative journalism. This was in reference to the hashtag campaign '#ArrestRhea' run by the channel in Twitter following the death of Sushant Singh Rajput.

"Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested?", the bench asked.

"Journalists were responsible back then & neutral, now media is highly polarised(sic)", the Court remarked. The Court also said that the concept of self-regulation of media has failed.

The officers were represented by Senior Advocate Aspi Chinoy, Additional Solicitor General of India Anil Singh, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar (for News Broadcasting Standards Association) and Senior Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar(for News Broadcasters Federation).

Chinoy had relied on the Delhi High Court judgment in 'Naveen Jindal v Zee Media's' case, where the channel was restrained from publishing certain allegations pending investigation. He argued that courts have the inherent power to restrain publications which affects the right to fair trial of the accused.

ASG Anil Singh argued if media reporting at the stage of investigation can amount to contempt of court, as an interference with the administration of justice. He as well as Senior Advocate Arvind Datar relied on the Supreme Court judgment of AK Gopalan vs Noordeen (1969), stating that it was relied upon by the SC in the Sahara India Real Estate Corp. Ltd. & Ors. Vs SEBI... judgement. Here a constitutional bench of the SC had refused to frame guidelines for media reportage.

Senior Advocate Datar argued that AK Gopalan's case was relevant even after the Contempt of Courts Act 1971 as it dealt with the inherent powers of contempt of courts under Articles 129/215 of the Constitution.

The division bench had then reserved its judgement in the case on November 6, 2020.

Click here to read/download the judgment


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