The Bombay High Court on Friday reserved its judgment 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.
Responding to the court’s query on whether reporting on an ongoing investigation in sensitive criminal matters amounted to contempt, the Union government, through Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, submitted in the negative, but said that the HC was empowered to pass restraining orders on media reporting as and when required.
Reiterating the stand of the government as well as media houses, Singh said that the existing self-regulatory mechanism was sufficient to keep a check on the functioning of news channels and hence, there was no need for additional legislations, regulations or guidelines.
After hearing all parties, including self-regulatory authorities such as News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), and directing them to file written submissions on the PILs, the HC said that the arguments were concluded and reserved its judgment.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni had asked the Centre and its Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) on October 29 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.
Singh, responding to the query pertaining to absence of law to keep a check on errant news channels, said on Friday, “Statutory and self-regulatory mechanisms are already in place. The Supreme Court has given guidelines and therefore, the court would not be required to frame additional guidelines. I am not disputing the jurisdiction of the HC, but statutory and self-regulatory mechanisms are in place.”
Senior counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for NBA and NBSA, said that time and again, disciplinary and stringent action have been taken against errant channels by banning their broadcast for a certain period. He added that the NBSA chairperson had informed him that an advisory will soon be issued stating that provisions of programme code should be strictly followed after the registration of FIRs in sensitive criminal matters.
Senior counsel Siddharth Bhatnagar, appearing for News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), said the existing framework has powers to take actions against any perceived violation by news channels and therefore, it did not frame guidelines despite having powers.
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