NOTING that it was not against “gagging irresponsible Press”,the Supreme Court on Monday criticised the “sensationalist” media reports on the murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar as lacking in “sensitivity,taste and decorum” and in complete violation of an apex court’s call for restraint two years ago.
A Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and AK Patnaik was hearing an application by Dr Rajesh Talwar,Aarushi’s father,seeking a second judicial intervention against media reports allegedly making “scurrilous” insinuations on the character and motives of the Talwar family. These reports,Talwar alleged,continue to be published despite an interim order passed by the Supreme Court on July 22,2008,asking the media to practice “caution” in reporting a crime still under investigation.
Talwar specified that he did not intend a “gag” on the media,but his was a plea to not “sensationalise” the murder case. He further questioned the authenticity of the “leaks” provided to the media by unnamed “sources” drawn from the CBI,the agency currently in charge of the case.
The Bench issued notices to two English dailies and asked them to explain the “definite assertions made,attributed to sources who are not disclosed”. They shall respond on August 19,2010 at 2 pm in court. “Show cause as to why action should not be taken against them on the publications,” the court said in the written order.
“Nobody is gagging the Press,but there is no harm in gagging irresponsible Press,” the Bench observed earlier during the hearing. After going through some of the reports annexed to the application,Justice Kabir said: “This is sickening… to write about a child who was only 14 years old when she died. Her reputation is tarnished.” He added: “We are for fair reporting. But this is sensationalism and simply character assassination. Can it be justified?”
To Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra,appearing for the CBI,Justice Patnaik said his client’s officers seem to be “more interested in the Press than the investigation”. “Quite possible that reports are quoting an imaginary CBI official,one who does not exist,” Justice Kabir interjected.
“Find out the truth about these ‘imaginary officials’ and advice the CBI to give instructions for no more leaks,” the court said. Though the Bench mentioned an “investigation” into the alleged media leaks,it did not formalise the remark in the written order. The court directed the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the National Broadcasters’ Association — a regulatory body for electronic media — to produce on record rules framed for self-regulation of content aired within a week.
Reiterating its 2008 direction,the Bench ordered restraint on “published material which may interfere with the investigation process in respect of all cases”. “We,however,clarify that this (order) does not prevent media to publish information which does not interfere with investigation,tarnish the image of victim or the accused and also prejudice defence,” the court said in its order.
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