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‘Media trial’ impacts probe: Bombay HC on Sushant Singh Rajput media coverage

The court had reserved its judgment in November last year on public interest litigations (PILs) filed by eight former police officers from Maharashtra, activists, lawyers and NGOs, seeking restraining orders against “media trial” in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: January 18, 2021 7:19:39 pm
sushant singh rajputSushant Singh Rajput passed away in June 2020 in Mumbai. (Photo: Sushant Singh Rajput/Facebook)

The Bombay High Court Monday said a media trial during the investigation of any case violates program code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act and does have an impact on the probe. The court ordered that the Press Council of India (PCI) guidelines will apply to electronic media along with print media till the time electronic media frame their own guidelines.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni passed its ruling on pleas filed by former police officers from Maharashtra, as well as activists, lawyers and NGOs, seeking restraining orders against “media trial” in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

The court held that the trial by media can interfere with the administration of criminal justice. The HC observed that some reporting by news channels like Republic TV and Times Now was “prima facie contemptuous”. The bench, however, refrained from initiating action against them.

The court also accepted the accusation that the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has “abdicated statutory functions” pertaining to regulations related to reporting on Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

The court held that media should avoid putting photographs of victims and accused as well as reconstructing the incident while the investigating is underway

The court had reserved its judgment in November last year on Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by eight former police officers from Maharashtra, activists, lawyers and NGOs, seeking restraining orders against “media trials” in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case.

The court also accepted the accusation that the MIB has “abdicated statutory functions” pertaining to regulations related to reporting on the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

The court had asked the Centre on October 29 last year as to why it should not frame guidelines on media coverage of sensitive criminal matters and ongoing investigations, and whether “excessive” reporting by the press amounted to interference in the administration of justice under the Contempt of Courts Act.

The petitioners include former DGPs P S Pasricha, K Subramaniam, D Shivanandan, Sanjeev Dayal, Satish Chandra Mathur, and former Commissioners of Mumbai Police Mahesh N Singh, Dhananjay N Jadhav and former Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief K P Raghuvanshi.

The plea called out “anchors of some TV channels (that) have been virtually running a vituperative 24×7 campaign against Mumbai Police and its Commissioner, DCP of the zone and other officers by attacking them by name in most unbecoming manner.”

Further emphasising on the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the plea stated it is important in the criminal justice system in India but is “grossly violated by way of the media conducting its own trial and creating an atmosphere of prejudice.”

The court disposed of the writ petitions stating that the findings were for the purpose of adjudication of the writ petitions and not on the subject matter.

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