Sushant case: media trial impacts investigation, says HC

The Bombay High Court on Monday held that a media trial interferes with administration of justice and could lead to obstructing investigation and administration of justice. The court, referring to the print and electronic coverage following the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, said this amounts to criminal contempt.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni directed the media to exercise restraint from printing/displaying any news item and/or initiating any discussion/debate/interview of the nature, in relation to death by suicide, depicting the deceased as one having a weak character or intruding in any manner on the privacy of the deceased.

Commenting on the news coverage by Republic TV and Times Now, the court remarked, “telecast of reports/ discussions /debates/interviews by these TV channels on the death of the actor and events subsequent thereto, is, prima facie, contemptuous having ingredients of criminal contempt.”

The court was hearing a bunch of Public Interest Litigations seeking direction from the court to authorities to issue guidelines to be followed by all media houses to refrain from publishing any comments which may jeopardize the reputation of the police and may hinder the case.

The Bench listed certain guidelines and directed the media to refrain from any news item that causes prejudice to an ongoing inquiry/investigation. “Referring to the character of the accused/victim and creating an atmosphere of prejudice for both; Holding interviews with the victim, the witnesses and/or any of their family members and displaying it on screen; Analyzing versions of witnesses, whose evidence could be vital at the stage of trial; Publishing a confession allegedly made to a police officer by an accused and trying to make the public believe that the same is a piece of evidence which is admissible before a Court and there is no reason for the Court not to act upon it, without letting the public know the nitty-gritty of the Evidence Act,” the 251-page judgment said.

One of the PILs has been filed by former Maharashtra DGPs M.N. Singh, P.S. Pasricha, D.K. Sivanandan, Sanjiv Dayal, Satish Mathur and K. Subramanyam, former Mumbai Police Commissioner Dhananjay Jadhav, and former additional DGP Krishipal Raghuvanshi.

Another PIL has been filed by film-maker Nilesh Navlakha; editor of a regional newspaper Mahibub D. Shaikh and retired civil servant Subhash Chander seeking a direction to ensure that news channels do not undertake a media trial that can prejudice the independent investigation being undertaken by CBI in the case.

The Bench further directed the media to not “Print photographs of an accused and thereby facilitating his identification; Criticize the investigative agency based on half-baked information without proper research; Pronounce on the merits of the case, including pre-judging the guilt or innocence qua an accused or an individual not yet wanted in a case, as the case may be; Recreate/reconstruct a crime scene and depicting how the accused committed the crime; Predict the proposed/future course of action including steps that ought to be taken in a particular direction to complete the investigation; and Leaking sensitive and confidential information from materials collected by the investigating agency.”

The Bench said, “any report carried by the print media or a programme telecast by a TV channel, live or recorded, ought to be such so as to conform to the Programme Code, the norms of journalistic standards and the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Regulations.” ; in default thereof, apart from action that could be taken under the prevailing regulatory mechanism, the erring media house could make itself liable to face an action in contempt, i.e., criminal contempt.”

It said, “While covering a suicide case, media houses should avoid - reconstructing crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information and to suggest that the person was of weak character.”

The court stated, “We have issued guidelines for print and electronic media regarding reporting of cases of death and suicide and made the guidelines by Press Council of India applicable to electronic media”.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 1:57:03 PM |

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