Adv. Saveena Bedi Sachar, Founder and Managing Partner of reputed legal firm, Lawhive Associates, sums up the observations the Hon’ble Bombay High Court made on 18th January 2021 while hearing several PILs filed in reference to the media trials conducted in the late Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case.
This comes to you from MediaBrief as short and helpful primer that should guide every responsible journalist and media house reporting in India
Media trials are not a new addition to the legal arena. With the expansion of social media, the media coverage has reached every household. Time and again the Judicial and Statutory authorities have condemned media trials and it is also felt that media trials create a bias thinking even in the right minded persons. This also creates an atmosphere of bias towards the victim and against the accused An act done at times only to increase TRP’s can tarnish the reputation of persons involved in the case even before the trial beings.
On 18th January 2021, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court made several interesting observations regarding ‘Media Trials’ while hearing several PIL’s filed in reference to the media trials in the late Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case.
The Court made following observation in the said matter:
“Having given our anxious consideration to all aspects of the matter, we are inclined to the opinion that the press/media ought to avoid/regulate certain reports/discussions/debates/interviews in respect of and/or touching upon any on-going inquiry/investigation into a criminal offence and that only those items are presented for reading/viewing and otherwise perceiving through the senses which are merely informative but in public interest instead of what, according to the media, the public is interested in. No report/discussion/debate/ interview should be presented by the press/media which could harm the interests of the accused being investigated or a witness in the case or any such person who may be relevant for any investigation, with a view to satiate the thirst of stealing a march over competitors in the field of reporting.”
“Accordingly, we direct the press/media to exercise restraint and refrain from printing/displaying any news item and/or initiating any discussion/debate/interview of the nature, as indicated hereunder:
a) 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;
b) That causes prejudice to an ongoing inquiry/investigation by:
i) Referring to the character of the accused/victim and creating an atmosphere of prejudice for both;
ii) Holding interviews with the victim, the witnesses and/or any of their family members and displaying it on screen;
iii) Analyzing versions of witnesses, whose evidence could be vital at the stage of trial
iv) 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, 1872
v) Printing photographs of an accused and thereby facilitating his identification;
vi) Criticizing the investigative agency based on half-baked information without proper research;
vii) Pronouncing 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;
viii) Recreating/reconstructing a crime scene and depicting how the accused committed the crime
ix) Predicting the proposed/future course of action including steps that ought to be taken in a particular direction to complete the investigation; and
x) Leaking sensitive and confidential information from materials collected by the investigating agency;
c) Acting in any manner so as to violate the provisions of the Programme Code as prescribed under section 5 of the CTVN Act read with rule 6 of the CTVN Rules and thereby inviting contempt of court; and
d) Indulging in character assassination of any individual and thereby mar his reputation.
The Hon’ble Court further stated that these were not intended to be exhaustive but indicative, and 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 within the meaning of section 2(c) of the CoC Act which, as and when initiated, would obviously have to be decided by the competent court on its own merits and in accordance with law.
While making several other observations on concluding the judgment, the Hon’ble Court also stated that the judiciary would interfere only in exceptional cases, where these trial infringe the rights of the accused.