Channel told to wait till the verdict is pronounced by the trial court in the matter

In a first of its kind, on the reference of the Bombay High Court, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) has stayed the telecast of a crime show, re-enacting the Delhi gang rape, on grounds that the principle of fair and impartial trial could be undermined by a narrative projecting only the prosecution’s version.

Sony Channel advertised that its popular show, Crime Patrol-Dastak, would be telecast on January 11 and 12, depicting the events of December 16, 2012 when the gang rape took place.

An NGO, Bharatiya Stree Shakti, approached the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, and argued that telecast of the show would be detrimental to the conduct of fair trial, and violate the dignity and the right to privacy of the victim and the family. This would also, the complainant argued, encourage channels to cash in on ‘traumatic crime experiences.’ The court granted a stay on telecast of the show. The channel, meanwhile, argued that such shows would not affect the ‘administration of justice’ and putting restraints would fetter ‘free speech and artistic expression of the channel.’

The court, based on the mutual consent of the two parties, referred the issue to the BCCC, which is a self-regulatory mechanism of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation. The Council does not have powers of ‘pre-censorship,’ and was judging a programme before it was telecast for the first time.

Impartial trial

In a statement, the BCCC indicated that a key question that weighed in its decision-making was whether the ‘right to free speech and expression prevail over the rights of the accused of fair and impartial trial.’

The BCCC pointed out that the show was clearly based ‘entirely on the prosecution story only.’ “It goes on to pronounce the accused persons guilty and the anchor of the show even says that the maximum possible punishment must be handed out to the accused persons.”

But, the Council notes, all the accused in the case have ‘pleaded innocence and therefore claimed trial.’ “Fair and impartial trial is not just a part and parcel of the right to life and liberty but goes to the root of administration of justice and rule of law.” The case had also generated a great amount of ‘public curiosity and interest’, and has immense ‘legal and social implications’.

In this backdrop, the BCCC directed that the show ‘should not be telecast till the verdict is pronounced by the trial court in the matter’. Both sides have accepted the order.

A BCCC source told The Hindu, “It is heartening that, away from the media glare, the self-regulation mechanism is working successfully. We have intervened in 40-50 matters, and asked channels to change story-lines, telecast in restricted timings, and these have mostly been accepted.” He added that the Crime Patrol case set a new standard, for the court had reposed faith in BCCC, and the two parties accepted its jurisdiction even before the show was telecast.

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