The Bombay High Court on Thursday said it expected the media to exercise restraint while reporting on the investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case so that the probe is not hampered.
A division bench of Justice A A Sayed and Justice S P Tavade was hearing two public interest litigations (PILs), including one filed by eight former senior police officers of Maharashtra, seeking restraining orders against “media trial” in the case.
After hearing the submissions, the court issued notices to respondents and said that in the meanwhile, it expected that media channels would practice restraint while reporting on the actor’s death and not hamper the investigation in any manner.
“We only expect and urge the media to exercise restraint in reporting the investigation with respect to the case which would in any manner hamper or prejudice ongoing investigation carried out by CBI as per SC order,” it said.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Union government, said the court should not pass such an order without hearing the channels and that it would have larger implications. He sought time to respond to the petitions.
With no media channels appearing before the court on Thursday, the HC said it would hear the representatives of TV channels and CBI before deciding on reliefs sought in the PILs and posted the matter for hearing on September 10.
The petitioners in one of the PILs – filed on Monday and seeking an urgent hearing – included former DGPs P S Pasricha, K Subramaniam, D Sivanandan, Sanjeev Dayal and Satish Chandra Mathur; former Mumbai Police commissioners Mahesh N Singh and Dhananjay N Jadhav as well as former Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief K P Raghuvanshi.
The respondents cited in the petition are the Union government, Press Council of India, News Broadcasters’ Association, News Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Maharashtra government.
The PIL filed through Crawford Bayley & Company, represented by senior counsel Milind Sathe and advocate Chetan Kapadia, said a section of television channels was “trying to influence the course of investigation” into the case by central agencies “through their biased reporting and false propaganda”. “This has created an air of suspicion in the minds of the general public as to the facts of the case under investigation and also about the Mumbai Police, health services and other support services of the state,” it added.
It further said that “anchors of some TV channels 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 the most unbecoming manner”.
The PIL sought various directions to the respondent authorities to issue guidelines to media houses to refrain from publishing and circulating any false, derogatory and scandalous comments, social media posts, news stories, which would allegedly jeopardise the reputation of the police.
Milind Sathe argued that the reportage by TV news channels was a complete attempt to influence neutral investigation and petitioners do not have any view in this matter and are only concerned about the maligning of the image of the Mumbai Police.
“Such piece of reporting (amounts to) hatred and vilification of Mumbai Police. The coverage in electronic media is a parallel investigation and Mumbai Police is (being) called co-conspirators by some channels. The manner in which reporting is taking place, they’ve virtually taken over the investigation,” he added.
The other PIL that the court was hearing was filed by activists Nilesh Navlakha, Mahibub D Shaikh and Subhash Chander Chaba – through senior counsel Devadatt Kamat and advocate Rajesh Inamdar. It stated that the nature of reporting by TV channels was of “sensationalism” and was adversely impacting ongoing CBI probe into the case.
The respondents cited by this petition are the Union government, Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association, CBI, Maharashtra government, India Today Group, Times now, Republic TV, NDTV Ltd, News 18 and Zee News.
Kamat submitted, “We are all for the freedom of press. It is the fourth estate. This country will survive only if there is a vibrant media, but the media has certain responsibilities, which if transgressed will destroy the administration of justice. The channels even broadcast photos of Sushant Singh Rajput’s corpse from his bedroom. This is totally against journalistic ethics and codes pertaining to media reporting issued by the Centre.”
The PIL sought that the programme code as per Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 be followed scrupulously.
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