The Bombay High Court on Friday asked if the current mechanism for self-regulation of the electronic media was enough to maintain a balance between right to freedom of speech and expression and the right of the accused to a fair trial and reputation. A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a PIL filed by eight former senior police officers from Maharashtra, as well as activists, lawyers and NGOs seeking a restraining order against “media trial” in actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case.
The court said in the present case, “substantial damage has been caused to the reputations of the persons so-called involved”.
“It takes years of hard work to build a reputation and with just one stroke it is brought from top to bottom. Without being punished, there is stigma on their forehead till the trial is completed, no matter if they are cleared of the charges,” the court said.
It added that people’s rights cannot be transcended upon and there is a need to balance. “In the present case before us, there are all these youngsters and their reputation is being tarnished at this age. They have a whole life ahead of them, they have families, what will the impact on them be?” the bench asked.
The court also said while there were regulations for the print media, including the Press Council of India Act, there was a similar mechanism for the electronic media. The bench said there was a need for a uniformity in the regulations. Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh said the government did not want a media trial but had expected self-regulation. He added that the government is considering these issues.
The bench said programmes, including those interfering with the probe, showed that self-restraint was not working. “Is the mechanism sufficient? The present time has changed, any mechanism needs to protect the rights of all citizens and not one particular individual or body,” the court said.
The court will continue to hear arguments by the News and Broadcasters Association on Monday.
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