Bombay HC raps Republic TV over reportage of Sushant Singh Rajput case; next hearing on 23 Oct

Referring to the #ArrestRhea run by the channel during the controversy following SSR's death, the bench asked whether asking public opinion on who should be arrested constituted investigative journalism

FP Staff October 21, 2020 20:15:43 IST
Bombay HC raps Republic TV over reportage of Sushant Singh Rajput case; next hearing on 23 Oct

File image of Bombay High Court. News18

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday pulled up Republic TV and expressed concern over media trials while listening to petitions seeking regulation of the media in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

Referring to the hashtag #ArrestRhea run by the channel, during the controversy following death of the Bollywood actor, the bench of  Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni asked advocate Malvika Trivedi, the channel's counsel, whether asking public opinion on who should be arrested constituted investigative journalism, reported LiveLaw.

"When a case is under investigation and the issue is whether it is a homicide or a suicide and a channel is saying it is murder, is that investigative journalism?," the court asked while pointing out that powers of investigation were conferred on the police under the CrPC.

"Ignorance of law is no excuse. You become the investigators and prosecutors, judges. What is use of us then? Why are we here?" LiveLaw quoted the court as saying.

The court made the remarks in reference to Trivedi's submission earlier that the channel was carrying out an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Rajput's death. Trivedi also argued that the channel was seeking to highlight the defects in the probe into the case and to bring to the public facts which had not been revealed, due to which there was further intervention in the case.

"Journalists have a right to bring public opinion on the forefront and criticise the government. It is not necessary that everyone will appreciate what is being projected by news channels. However, if news makes a certain section uncomfortable it is the essence of a democracy," PTI quoted her as saying

As per Bar&Bench, Trivedi sad that the term "media trial" was being stretched by certain sections and also asked whether the petitions were against the media or over regulations. "What Milords have to note is what the petitions seek, is it grievance against media or the shortcoming of the regulations?" she said.

Trivedi contended that the hashtags originated from social media and expressed public opinion. The lawyer for Republic TV also argued that only facts were being stated by the channel.

The bench asked Trivedi why Republic TV broadcast photos of the dead body, and speculated on whether the actor's death was a case of suicide or homicide.

"You have depicted a lady in such a way that infringes on her rights. This is our prima facie view," it said.

The lawyer argued that each story was carefully examined by the channel and many aspects were unearthed by it in various cases, LiveLaw reported. To her contention that the state or police cannot decide on every story and every tweet, the court responded that it was not suggesting that the media's throat should be throttled but was only concerned about the compliance of the Program Code.

"We are only saying you must know your boundaries and within your boundaries, you are allowed to do everything. Do not Cross-over",  LiveLaw quotes the bench as saying.

The bench made the remarks while hearing the final arguments on a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) seeking that the press be restrained while reporting on Rajput's death. The pleas had also sought that TV news channels be stopped from conducting a media trial into the case.

The bench had asked all parties to clarify if a statutory mechanism was required to regulate the content broadcast by the TV news channels.

Earlier this week, it had also asked the Union government why guidelines of private bodies such as the News Broadcasters Standards Authority (NBSA) to regulate the content broadcast by TV news channels could not be ratified and enforced by the government.

During the day-long hearing, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the government, said that the Centre was in favour of a self-regulatory mechanism for the print and TV media.

Singh also said that the Union government forwarded the complaints it received against TV channels, to the NBSA if the concerned channels were its members or it initiated action against them while ensuring that the freedoms of the press were not curtailed.

"It is not that we are not taking action against erring channels and it's not like the mechanism is not working," PTI quoted Singh as saying. "Maybe one or two channels may not have followed the guidelines properly, but by and large all channels have been following them regularly," the ASG said.

If the action taken by the NBSA was inadequate, then the union initiated action against erring channels. "Action has been taken by the Ministry against 214 channels since 2013 for violations under the Programme Code," he said.

The court also heard lawyers for other TV channels that are a party in the case — Times Now, Aaj Tak, India TV, Zee News and ABP News.

Kunal Tandon, the lawyer appearing for Times Now, urged the court to not disturb the media's model of self-regulation, saying that there was a "lakshman rekha" in certain matters, while there may be popular or unpopular views on it.  "A news report has to be read as a whole and a liberal person will look at it wholly," LiveLaw quotes him as saying.

As per LiveLaw, responding to a lawyer's statement that redressal mechanisms were available to aggrieved persons, the court said: "These are all aspects after the damage has been done. But how will the person get justice after damage has been done? How does a person in a village or in a remote place get justice?"

The court has posted the matter for hearing at 12 pm on 23 October.

With inputs PTI

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