Referring to the reportage by the media in the case of death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the Bombay High Court (HC) on Thursday said, “We would not like the media to cross it boundaries and we would also like to be within our boundaries.”
A Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) seeking a direction from the court to issue guidelines to be followed by all media houses — print, television, radio, internet — to refrain from publishing and curtailing any comments which may jeopardise the reputation of the police or hinder the case.
The court asked the government to state by November 6 if such reportage adversely affects the probe and subsequent trial, and if the court should issue guidelines on media reporting.
The Bench said, “If there is excessive reporting, that can put an accused on guard, and he may resort to destroying evidence or absconding. Or if that person is actually innocent, the excessive media reporting can damage his reputation.”
The court told Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh to find out if excessive reporting by the media in an ongoing investigation meant interference in the process of administration of justice under the Contempt of Courts Act.
The Bench asked “Whether excessive reporting by media in an ongoing investigation amounts to interference in administration of justice under of the Contempt of Courts Act and should we lay guidelines? This is the issue before us.”
It also asked Mr. Singh to consider scenarios where such reportage about an ongoing probe, where a chargesheet was yet to be filed, influenced the investigating officer, or resulted in a witness being threatened.
The Bench went on to say, “If media identifies that a person is a very vital witness, he could be won over, threatened, or he could be even physically harmed so that he does not give evidence.”
The Bench also said, “Think of a police officer. Can anyone guarantee that he will not be influenced? He may be following a particular track. Media says no no this must be the track. He loses track and rounds up an innocent person.”
“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?” the court asked.
The court added questions for Mr. Singh and said, “Is there any law which says that whatever an investigation agency collected as evidence should be laid before the public? Where is the obligation for the investigating officer to disclose evidence? How does the postmortem report come to the press unless of course it is disclosed? Should we lay down guidelines on these aspects?”
The court directed Mr. Singh to file his replies and adjourned the matter to be heard on November 6.