The Delhi High Court on Monday questioned Zee News for making public the purported “disclosure statement” of an accused in a case related to the Northeast Delhi riots, saying it was not a prosecuting agency and the document, which has “little evidentiary value” in a trial, has been portrayed as something that “completely indicts a person”.
“It is a misrepresentation of facts of a different level,” observed Justice Vibhu Bakhru. Saying that the documents “were not supposed to be taken out and published,” the court asked Zee News to file an affidavit and disclose the source of the alleged confession by the accused.
The court also rejected the channel’s request to be allowed to disclose the name of the journalist, who got the statement, in a sealed cover. “You make (public) documents which are not supposed to be taken out and you want your name to be concealed,” the court told Advocate Vijay Aggarwal, who appeared for Zee News.
The single-judge Bench was hearing a petition filed by Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha against his “disclosure statement” being allegedly leaked by police to the media.
Last week, the court had asked Zee News to disclose its source after the Delhi Police said none of its personnel had leaked the purported statement.
Aggarwal submitted that the journalist may not be asked to disclose his source as the question of privilege is involved, and journalists get information on the basis of an understanding with their sources. He referred to Section 15 (2) of the Press Council Act, which protects “any newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist” from disclosure of “the source of any news or information published by that newspaper or received or reported by that news agency, editor or journalist” during proceedings before the Press Council of India.
He also referred to a “proposed” provision of a 1983 Law Commission report. However, the court observed that something which is not in the statute book cannot be relied upon.
Saying that the court has to weigh between the constitutional rights of two persons, Aggarwal said the petitioner had earlier “confessed” that he “did not have regard for the Constitution of India”.
“I think you are crossing a line here. You have no material whatsoever to make this allegation. You are not the prosecution agency. We have found that your conduct, prima facie, has been remiss… the police itself has instituted a vigilance enquiry (into) how you accessed the documents which should not have been leaked in the first place. Please refrain from making any allegations against the petitioner,” the court said.
Saying that the documents “were not supposed to be taken out and published”, the court said Article 19 (1) (a) was not an “untrammelled right” that can expand and has no limitations. “There seems to be no doubt about it (publishing of the document). The officers that have taken (it) out… are going to face vigilance enquiry,” it said. “Prima facie, we think you have got no argument … but we will give it the consideration it deserves,” it said.
Questioning the right of the news channel to make public the document when the chargesheet was not filed and even the accused did not have access to it, the court said it would examine whether Article 19 (1) (a) (right to freedom of speech and expression) allows publication of the case diaries at that stage of investigation.
The court said if it finds there is no right which allows publication of such documents “at a particular point of time”, it would also examine what steps are required to be taken. “Would an acknowledgment that they have been remiss suffice… there must be something effective,” it said.
The court asked the counsel representing the petitioner to assist it regarding the next steps required, in case it accepts the contention that there was “irresponsible behaviour on the part of the journalist”, and examine whether any further orders would be required to be passed — “… if they are to be prosecuted, under what provision… what are the remedies that would be available to anyone who would be aggrieved by this.”
The court also asked Aggarwal whether the channel would be willing to publish an acknowledgement that it had been remiss, and what would be the appropriate procedure in case the court does not agree that the channel had a right under Article 19 (1) (a) to take and publish the documents.
The court asked whether the Editor of the news channel did not know the documents were not to be disclosed and were part of police files, which were not public yet. Aggarwal responded that journalists disclose various documents which are not public. The court asked the channel to put its response in an affidavit.
Noting that the police were carrying out their own enquiry, the court said it hoped that they would find out how the documents were leaked and put their house in order. The court said it would also monitor what action is taken by the police.
Tanha, in his petition, had submitted that the timing of the “leak” and “publication of this false information purportedly from the police files, at a time when bail application of the petitioner is pending consideration before the trial court, creates a reasonable apprehension that the process of justice is being attempted to be subverted”.
He asked the court to direct Zee News, OpIndia, YouTube and Facebook, who are respondents in this case with DCP Special Cell, to take down the sensitive/ confidential information, and issue guidelines on media reporting of the ongoing criminal investigations.
The next hearing has been scheduled for Friday.
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