13 Sep 2023 10:02 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare a comprehensive manual on media briefings by police personnel within a period of three months. The bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice Manoj Misra also directed Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states to submit their suggestions for the manual. Additionally, the...
The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare a comprehensive manual on media briefings by police personnel within a period of three months. The bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice Manoj Misra also directed Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states to submit their suggestions for the manual. Additionally, the court directed that the input of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) be considered in this matter.
The matter in question pertained to two critical issues: firstly, the procedures to be followed by the police in the event of encounters, and secondly, the protocols police must adhere to when conducting media briefings during ongoing criminal investigations. While the former issue was addressed in the 2014 judgment of PUCL v. State of Maharashtra, the Court was now focused on the latter.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud emphasized the growing significance of this issue, especially in light of the evolving landscape of electronic media reporting. He noted that the matter involved several layers of public interest, including the public's right to know during an investigation, the potential impact of police disclosure on the investigation process, the rights of the accused, and the overall administration of justice.
The Court had earlier appointed Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan as an amicus curiae for assistance. Sankarnarayanan had circulated a questionnaire to all States and Union Territories, receiving responses from some of them. Furthermore, observations were submitted by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), one of the petitioners in the case. The Senior Advocate recommended that while the media cannot be restrained from reporting, the sources of information, which are often government entities, can be regulated. This approach aims to prevent multiple versions of events from being presented to the media, as has happened in previous cases. He said–
"We cannot restrain the media from reporting. But the sources can be restrained. Because the source is the state. Even in the Aarushi case, so many versions were given to the media."
Keeping the same in mind, the amicus submitted guidelines to be considered for the purpose of framing the manual. He stated that the guidelines took from the Media Relations Handbook of the Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) and the New York Police Department(NYPD), along with the Communications Advisory of the Association of Chief Police Officers of the UK, and even the CBI manual.
The Supreme Court's order emphasized the delicate balance between the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the rights of the accused to a fair investigation, and the privacy of victims.
"Media reportage which implicates an accused is unfair. Biased reporting also gives rise to public suspicion that the person has committed an offence. The media reports can also violate the privacy of victims", the Court observed in the order.
In its order, the Supreme Court highlighted the need for updated guidelines, as the existing ones were created over a decade ago, and media reporting of crime has evolved significantly since then, with both print and electronic media playing a substantial role. It stated–
"The guidelines by Union were prepared almost a decade ago on April 1, 2010. Since then, with the upsurge of reporting of crime not only in print media but also electronic media, it becomes important for there to be a balance."
The court recognized that the nature of information disclosed to the media should be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, taking into account factors such as the age and gender of victims and accused individuals. It stated–
"The nature of the disclosure cannot be uniform since it must depend upon the nature of the crime and the participating stakeholders including the victims, witnesses and accused. The age and gender of the victim and accused would have a significant bearing on the nature of the disclosure."
The Court further underlined that police disclosure should not result in "media-trial".
"It should be ensured that the disclosure doesn't result in media trial so as to allow pre-determination of the guilt of the accused", the Court stated.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has been given a three-month deadline from the date of the order to prepare the comprehensive manual. Within one month, all DGPs must communicate their suggestions for the guidelines to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and NHRC's recommendations will also be considered. The Ministry of Home Affairs is expected to conclude this exercise within three months and must provide a copy of the guidelines to amicus curiae Sr. Adv. Gopal Sankarnarayanan and Ms. Shobha Gupta, counsel for NHRC.
The case is scheduled for the next hearing in the second week of January.
Case Title: PUCL v State of Maharashtra | Crl.A. No. 1255/1999
Click Here To Read/Download Order