The Bombay High Court has been moved in a PIL to temporarily postpone news reporting by the media, on the ground that it amounts to "Media Trial" or "Parallel Investigation", directly or indirectly hampering the CBI probe in the demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
The plea - by filmmaker/producer Nilesh Navlakha, Mahibub D. Shaikh, editor of a regional newspaper, and retired civil servant Subhash Chander Chaba - prays for strict vigil by the IB Ministry and the Press Council of India on the media - television, print and electronic - in sensitive cases, in adherence to the Programme Code per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and 1994 Rules, besides stringent action against such media channels who conduct "Media Trials" in violation of the said code, the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards, the News Broadcasting Standards Regulations.
The petition, through Advocate Pankaj Khandari, submits that the action of the Media in sensationalising Sushant Singh Rajput's death is not only adversely impacting the ongoing investigation by the CBI, but is also in the teeth of the "doctrine of postponement" propounded by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Sahara India Real Estate Corpn. Ltd. v. SEBI, (2012) - for postponement of publication or publicity in cases in which there is real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice or to the fairness of trial.
"The instant petition in no manner seeks to impinge or curtail the freedom of the press/media, but for the sake of administration of justice only seeks a direction to the respondents to toe the "LakshmanRekha" and ensure that no media trial is undertaken which has the impact of prejudicing the independent investigation being undertaken by the CBI", it is urged.
It is submitted that the medial trial in the death of the Actor Sushant Singh Rajput's case is posing real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice, much less, the criminal justice system, or to the fairness of trial and such neutralizing device (balancing act) would not be an unreasonable restriction and on the contrary would fall within the proper constitutional framework.
It is advanced that from the date of the death till today, several prominent media channels have been literally conducting "Media trials" "Parallel proceedings" investigation by conducting and broadcasting, holding debates, rendering opinion, exposing the material witnesses, examining and cross-examining the witnesses and reporting and chasing the officials of CBI who are investigating the case.
"The prominent news channels in its attempt to sensationalize the issue has gone as far as displaying the CDR records which is a vital piece of evidence thereby resulting in the several threat calls and messages sent to the alleged accused", it is pointed out.
The plea further avers that as per the media reports available in public domain on 7th August 2020, the day when the accused in the FIR was supposedly summoned by the ED, the news channels uploaded a video in which actors' contact details were clearly shown.
"Few of such prominent channels also to scandalize and sensationalize the death of the late actor has been making irresponsible reporting to implicate one of the prominent ministers of the State of Maharashtra and have been making derogatory, false and distasteful remarks against several ministers only to create distrust in minds of the public at large by their narratives", it is contended.
The plea indicates that several media channels are chasing the CBI team who are investigating the case and, in the process, are exposing the witnesses to the public at large.
"Several news channels have proceeded to already convict the accused in named in the FIR and also making insinuations against high ranking officers of the Mumbai police and the Ministers of the State without even completion of the investigation or probe in the matter", it is pressed.
The petitioners urge that in various debates and discussions held by the several prominent news-channels/electronic media in particular, the news anchors/reporters are examining and cross-examining all the proposed witnesses and exposing the probable evidence to the public which can only be examined by the investigating agency or by the competent courts during the course of trial.
"'Media trials' during the pre-trial investigation stage,as reportage and exposure of key witnesses and evidence,clearly undermines the concept of free and fair trial. The freedom of the Media, esp. TV News media, cannot be allowed to super-stretch to a point where by outpouring reprobate information begins to clog and cloud the pellucid comprehension of 'facts/news' in the people's minds and impinges upon free and fair investigation of the matter", it is stressed.
The petitioners have argued that the actions of the Media in sensationalising Sushant Singh Rajput‟s death is not only adversely impacting the ongoing investigation by the CBI, but is also in the teeth of the "doctrine of postponement" propounded by a Constitution Bench of the Hon‟ble Supreme Court in the Sahara case.
"It is not hidden from this Hon'ble Court that in the past when the Media has conducted trial in several high-profile cases the competent court has acquitted the accused persons, and the same have been embarrassed and smudged to an extent owing to interference and unwarranted parallel-trials by the Media, for instance K.M.Nanawati Murder Case, ArushiTalwar Murder Case, 2Gspectrum cases etc", it is stated.
The Petition has been drawn. by Advocates Rajesh Inamdar, Aditya Bhat, Shashwat Anand and Smita Pandey