The Bombay High Court on Thursday passed an order stating that it urges and expects the media to show restraint while reporting the developments in the case relating to the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
The bench also said that the media should not report in a manner which hampers the ongoing investigation in the matter.
"At this stage and since the Respondent No.5 to 11(media houses) are not present, before we consider grant of any prayers sought in the Petitions, we only urge and expect the said Respondents to exercise restraint in the media reporting pertaining to the investigation of unnatural death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput which would in any manner hamper or prejudice the ongoing investigation which is being carried out by Respondent No.4-CBI after the imprimatur of the Supreme Court vide judgment and order dated 19-08-2020".
A bench of Justices A A Sayed and S P Tavade passed the order in PILs which sought directions for fair reporting by the media of the Sushant Singh Rajput case.
The bench also issued notice in a PIL filed filed through Advocates Rajesh Inamdar and Shashwat Anand seeking a direction to the Centre to enforce its program code against the TV channels to stop the "media trial" in the case. Nilesh Navlakha(filmmaker/producer), Mahibub D. Shaikh(editor of a regional newspaper) and retired civil servant Subhash Chander Chaba were the petitioners in this case.
The Court said that it will consider the further reliefs sought by the petitioners after hearing the CBI, which is handling the investigation in the case.
Along with the above PIL, the bench considered another PIL filed by 8 former IPS officers who had served Maharashtra police contending that the media was carrying out a "malicious campaign against the Mumbai police"
Appearing for the ex-IPS officers - former DGPs PS Parsicha, K Subramanyam, D Sivanandan, Sanjeev Dayal and SC Mathur, along with former Commissioners MN Singh, DN Jadhav and KP Raghuvanshi - Senior Advocate Milind Sathe sought directions to the Union of India, Press Council of India, News Broadcaster's Association and News Broadcasting Standards Authority to issue guidelines to restrain media from publishing any content that may jeopardize the reputation of Mumbai police.
"Media has virtually taken over the investigation and is doing parallel investigation and parallel trial. Mumbai police is being called a co-conspirator. There is a malicious vilification campaign": Sathe submits.#MumbaiPolice #SushantSinghRajput— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) September 3, 2020
'Petitioners (former IPS officers) are not concerned with the accused or the victim; petitioners are not concerned about who should investigate. The petitioners are concerned about the manner of reporting of the case which is against the journalistic ethics", Sathe submitted.
"Reporting by media, especially electronic media, is a parallel media trial. Ther is also vilification of Mumbai Police without any basis", he submitted.
Referring to the order passed by the Supreme Court on August 19 to hand over the investigation to the CBI, Sathe submitted that the top court had not found any fault with the procedure adopted by the Mumbai police, and that the CBI probe was ordered in the peculiar circumstances of the case where the states of Bihar and Maharasthra were making allegations against each other.
"There is no castigation or stigma cast on the MumbaiPolice", Sathe said referring to portions of the Supreme Court order of August 19. Despite that, he said, the media was "falsely tarnishing" the Mumbai police.
Sathe also referred to several snapshots of the media reports against Mumbai police. He also said that the channel 'Times Now' displayed the dead body of the actor in a show anchored by Navika Kumar.
Sathe also submitted that the media was doing a parallel investigation in the case by calling the witnesses and asking them questions.
"This is an attempt to influence the investigation and to prejudice the case", he said.
He highlighted that the Press Council of India has also expressed its disapproval of the manner of media reporting in the case. The reporting is in violation of the norms for "self-regulation" formulated by the News Broadcasters Association.
"The reporting is not fair, balanced, objective and neutral. They have taken over the trial and investigation. The media reporting has exposed material witnesses and crucial materials. This acts as a serious prejudice to investigation. Right to fair trial and fair investigation is part of Article 14 & 21", he argued.
The senior counsel also made a reference to The Police (Incitement of Disaffection) Act 1922 and stated that the reporting violates the provisions of this Act.
Appearing in the PIL filed by Nilesh Navlakha and others, Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat submitted that the media had violated the norms laid down by the Press Council of India, and also the Program Code under the Cable TV act while reporting the case.
Kamat submitted that one channel termed Sushant Singh's suicide 'hit wicket'. One channel showed the corpse of the actor. Another channel circulated fabricated tweets as Sushant's last message and later deleted the news on being exposed, he added. Channels are also discussing the private chats between Sushant and Rhea.
"'A trial by press is the very antithesis of rule of law and can lead to miscarriage of justice", he submitted.
"What is guiding the media is not the quest for truth but a quest for TRPs and more and more commercial gains", he said.
Kamat referred to the order passed by the Supreme Court in the Arushi Talwar case to restrain media from publishing any matter which "interferes with investigation, sully the character of the victim and prejudice the defence of the accused".
"When one of the witnesses came out of CBI office after interrogation, the media hounded him asking about the kind of questions asked. Is this the kind of reporting which the fourth estate should do?", Kamat asked.
The Law Commission of India has also commented that such publications "directly impinge upon the administration of justice", he said.
Law Commission of India has frowned upon publications on the character of the accused, comments reflecting on the merits of the case under investigation, photographs of crime scene, police investigation.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Central Government, had sought for adjournment of the hearing to tomorrow by saying that copies of the petitions had not been served on the Centre, and that none of the channels had appeared before the Court.
Complete updates of the hearing can be read in the Twitter thread given below :
#SushantSinghRajputDeathCase : Bombay HC is considering two PILs seeking regulation of "media trial" and "malicious campaign against @MumbaiPolice" by some media while reporting the case.— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) September 3, 2020
One PIL has been filed by 8 former IPS officers.#RheaChakraborty