'Where should we draw the line?': Supreme Court takes strong note of media reporting in Rewari gangrape case
The Supreme Court noted that in media reports, too many details of the Rewari gangrape survivor had been shared, which could help identify the 19-year-old.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday took strong note of media reporting in the Rewari gangrape case, asking why no action has been taken against media houses for flouting the law as "everything has been said" about the 19-year-old survivor. "Where should we draw the line... We are concerned about the identity of the victim," a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
The apex court made the observations while dealing with a plea challenging a Patna High Court order restraining the media from reporting on the investigation into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, where several girls were allegedly raped and sexually abused over time.
The bench said: "There are certain problems. Recently, there was a case of a girl being raped in Rewari (in Haryana). They (the media) say she was a topper in a CBSE exam. A topper means one person, not 20 people. So identifying her is not a problem."
"Secondly, I have seen on TV channels that they have talked to her father. The camera was placed behind the father. But there are 50 people from the village standing in front of him. So they know who she is. In a situation like this, where is the question of anonymity?" Justice Lokur asked senior lawyer Shekhar Naphade, who was appearing for the petitioner.
Naphade said anything that discloses the identity of the survivor has to be stopped, and "the dignity of the person has to be protected". To this, the bench said "there are live instances of flouting of Section 228A (which deals with the disclosure of the identity of such victims) of the Indian Penal Code".
When the counsel said that a news broadcasting authority already existed, the bench asked, "Have these TV channels been hauled up? We are giving you instances from yesterday. Tell us how to stop it."
When the bench asked Attorney General KK Venugopal about media reporting in the Rewari gangrape case, the top law officer said that such channels could be prosecuted by the State.
"For law and order, the State is responsible. Once this is brought to your notice, the court can also issue a notice and ask the state what action they have taken on this. TV channels can also be asked to respond to this. It will have a reformatory measure," the Attorney General of India said.
During the hearing, Naphade said the court should pass directions in this regard, and any breach or violation would constitute contempt. "You will have to create such a structure where accountability has to be fixed. We have to identify the authority. In case of television, it has to be the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Some mechanism has to be there," he told the bench.
To this, the bench asked "what action the Press Council of India has taken in the Rewari case". Naphade said it was "unfortunate" that no action has been taken yet in the matter against the media.
Advocate Aparna Bhat, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, said the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act says that the State could initiate prosecution in such cases, but no action has been taken yet.
When Naphade said that magistrates could take cognisance on their own in such matters, the bench said "the magistrates are already overloaded with work". The senior counsel then said that "social engineering" was needed to deal with the issue and he would give suggestions as to how to proceed in such matters.
However, the amicus curiae said that the media has been playing a critical role in unearthing such cases and what was required to be cured was "sensationalism" by the media. "We are also concerned about the identity of the victim. In the Rewari case, apart from giving the name of the girl, everything has been said....where should we draw the line," the bench asked.
The court posted the matter for further hearing on 20 September. It also made it clear that the high court's 23 August order restraining the media would not apply to the proceedings pending before the top court.
The plea, challenging the high court order restraining the media, was filed by a Patna-based journalist through advocate Fauzia Shakil. The petition, which has sought a stay on the order, has alleged that the order was "patently erroneous" as it amounted to imposing a "blanket ban" on media reporting in the shelter home case.
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