The Bombay High Court on Monday pulled up news channels Republic TV and Times Now over their reporting against Mumbai Police in Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case and said it was ‘prima facie contemptuous’.
However the court refrained from taking any action against the two channels.
"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, according to a Live Law report.
Hearing a batch of petitions filed by activists, lawyers, NGOs and eight former police officers against the media trial, a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni, said the two news channels started a vicious campaign in an attempt to outsmart each other. This was without any regard for the rights of other stakeholders and without any sense of propriety.
“Reports/ discussions/ debates/interviews on the death of the actor flowed thick and fast from these TV channels in brazen disregard of the rule of law, the edifice on which the country’s Constitution rests. These TV channels took upon themselves the role of the investigator, the prosecutor as well as the Judge and delivered the verdict as if, during the pandemic, except them all organs of the State were in slumber,” the Court said according to a Bar & Bench report.
With reference to their hashtag campaign, ‘#ArrestRhea’, the court asked the advocates representing Republic TV, “Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested?"
The court observed that a media trial obstructs the administration of justice and violates the programme code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act. The court ordered that till the electronic media frames its own guidelines, the Press Council of India (PCI) guidelines should also apply to the electronic media, apart from the print media.
After several weeks of hearing, in its verdict, reserved on November 6, 2020, the court observed that the media should restrict itself only to informative reports in such public interest cases and should avoid discussions and debates relating to criminal investigation. While the investigation is underway, they should avoid displaying photographs of the victims and the accused. While reporting suicide, they should also avoid raising aspersions on the person’s character, the court said.
“Reconstructing of crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information should be avoided,” the court said.
The court also accepted the accusation that the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) had “abdicated statutory functions” and failed to regulate the media on the coverage of the actor’s death.