Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Union government to clarify whether excessive reportage by the press on an ongoing investigation of Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) case amounted to interference in the administration of justice under the Contempt of Courts Act. The court also asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) why it should not frame guidelines on media coverage of sensitive criminal cases.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni was hearing PILs filed by some former IPS officers of Mumbai police and activists seeking restrictions should be imposed on media trials in SSR death case. PILs also alleged that some media channels are maligning the image of Mumbai police deliberately and requested court to interfere in the matter.
In the previous hearings, the HC heard the petitioners, private TV news channels, and the National Broadcasters Standards Authority (NBSA) on the need for a regulatory mechanism for the electronic media. The TV channels and the NBSA argued in favour of a self-regulatory mechanism and said the state must not be given any control over their content.
On Thursday, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, representing former police officers, submitted to the court that there had been blatant violation of rights of various persons by the news channels while reporting on the SSR death case. He said that the channels had resorted to pre-judging and conducted irresponsible coverage of the actor’s death case, and that it was affecting administration of justice and fundamental rights such as the right to fair trial guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Mr Chinoy further submitted that the media had violated statutory framework of the Cable TV Regulation Act by transmitting content which amounted to contempt of Court and though the Central Government, which was empowered under the Cable TV Act and the Programme Code for TV channels laid down under it failed to take suo motu cognisance of the media trial in Rajput’s death case while the coverage by certain errant news channels was ongoing for over two months. At the end of his arguments Mr Chinoy requested the court to frame guidelines.
Thereafter, Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta asked Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, “Whether excessive reporting by the media in an ongoing investigation amounts to interference in administration of justice under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act and should we lay guidelines? This is the issue before us.”
Justice Dutta asked the government’s counsel to consider scenarios where such reportage on an ongoing probe, where a charge sheet was yet to be filed, influenced the investigating officer, or resulted in a witness being threatened. It asked if the court must step in and formulate guidelines to regulate the press to avoid such scenarios.
On the possibility of the press influencing an investigating officer, who might get influenced by the media reports and change the direction of his investigation. “Or, if the officer is competent and does not get influenced, then the media starts maligning him. Is this welcome in a society governed by rule of law?” Justice Dutta asked.
Seeking clarifications on its queries from the Central government the court kept the matter on November 6 for further hearing....