January 31, 2021 7:47:47 pm
The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court recently issued additional guidelines for the print and electronic media, as well as for people using social media, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, asking them to refrain from revealing the identity of a rape survivor or victims of offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
A division bench of Justice Tanaji V Nalawade and Justice Mukund G Sewlikar on January 19 passed the judgment on a PIL filed by the mother of rape survivor, making several observations on media coverage on incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment and laying down a slew of guidelines.
The petitioner had sought directions to the print and electronic media that the name or identity of a rape victim cannot be disclosed. “It is true that the victim of (a) sex offence undergoes not only physical trauma but also mental trauma,” the bench observed.
It said, “The electronic media holds interviews of the victims or relatives of the victims. The victim or relatives of the victim, most of the time, are not aware that by giving such an interview they are revealing the identity of the victim.”
The bench added, “If the victim, who is major or the relatives of such a victim voluntarily consent to disclosing her identity, no one can have any objection. However, when the victim or her relatives do not want the identity to be revealed, the media should act with circumspection and is expected to observe restraint.”
In addition to a set of guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in 2018, the HC bench proposed various directions exercise restraint while publishing or giving information on cases related to offences of rape under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or the POCSO Act, stating that identity of the victim should not be directly or indirectly disclosed.
According to the ruling, the information on which the media should exercise restraint include the names of parents or relatives of a victim, relation of the accused with the victim, residential/occupational/work address of the accused and victim and village at which the victim and/or accused live.
The HC also said that details related to occupations of the parents or other relatives of the victim, along with their places of work should be avoided in such a manner that the victim is not identified.
The bench directed that if victim is a student, the media should avoid mentioning the name of the school or college or any other educational institution or private coaching classes or classes which the victim has joined for pursuing her hobbies including music, drawing, dance, stitching and cooking, among others. It also said that the media should avoid giving details related to the family background of the victim.
The court also issued several directives to trial courts, including special POCSO courts, and investigating officers.
Justice Sewlikar, who authored judgment, observed, “It is noticed that while framing of charge, recording evidence and recording statement of (the) accused under section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, name of the victim is disclosed. Therefore, while framing charges, mentioning the name of the victim should be avoided. Instead, he/she should be referred to as ‘X’ or any other alphabet the court deems fit and proper.”
“While recording evidence, if the witness mentions the name of the victim, the court shall record that ‘the witness stated the name of the victim but to conceal her identity, her name is not recorded’. And the victim should be referred to in the same manner as is done during the framing of charge,” the bench added.
It also said that if the witness in the case is a victim, his/ her name should not be disclosed while recording evidence.
“Her name, place of residence, age, occupation shall be kept in a sealed cover and in the name column, she can be referred in the same manner described while framing charge keeping the address column, occupation column blank. The same procedure should be followed while recording statements under section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the court shall refer to the victim in the manner she is referred to while framing the charge.”
The bench also issued directions for police officers saying that while forwarding a remand report to the magistrate or court, mentioning of the victim’s name should be avoided. “Instead, she should be referred to as ‘X’ or any other alphabet the investigating officer deems fit and proper,” the HC said.
Advocate AD Ostwal, who was appointed as Amicus Curiae to assist the court, submitted that electronic media holds interviews of the victim or his/her relatives. “Because of these interviews, though care is taken to blur the face of the victim or his/her relations, the identity of the victim can be disclosed by his/her voice,” he said.
To this, the bench responded, “We hope the electronic media will show restraint in holding interviews of the victims and/or their relatives and would take all precautions to avoid and prevent disclosure of the identity of the victim.”
Disposing of the PIL, the court directed its registry to forward its directions to the Principal Secretaries of state Home, Law and Judiciary departments, along with secretaries of Indian Broadcasting Foundation and the Press Council of India.
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