Why no action against media trial, HC asks Ministry of I&B

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The Bombay High Court has asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to inform it as to why it has not initiated any action concerning complaints related to media trial in Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

This comes as the News Broadcaster Association (NBA) implored the Bombay High Court to not give in to the requests of the petitioners who sought directions for the formation of a statutory authority to regulate the electronic media. The NBA said it would lead to an end to the independence of the media. It submitted that the self-regulatory mechanism which is in place has been very effective in redressing complaints against channels and all members have strictly adhered to its regulations except for Republic TV.

The NBA informed the court that Republic TV did not want to abide by the NBA regulations and hence left the association and went on to form its own self-regulating authority. The submissions were made in the public interest litigations filed against the media trial by news channels in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, while hearing a bunch of petitions filed by individuals, NGOs and a group of former top police officials seeking a restraint on media trials, was informed by senior counsel Arvind Datar representing the NBA and News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) that the self-regulatory mechanism for channels was working diligently.

The two authorities were responding to allegations by the petitioners that the electronic media was conducting media trials wherein they resorted to police bashing, disclosing vital details of ongoing investigations and trying to influence the opinion of viewers. The petitioners had stated that the independent self-regulating authorities, in the form of the NBA and the NBSA, were not taking sufficient steps to curb channels from conducting media trials.

Datar, however, refuted the allegations and submitted that they had, time and again, taken disciplinary and sometimes stringent action against errant channels by banning its airing for three days to three months. He submitted that though the two authorities did not have any statutory powers, it was adjudicating complaints based on the programme code as directed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB).

He added that all member channels adhered to the self-regulatory norms and decisions passed by the authorities. Datar further submitted that it was only recently that an English and a regional language channel had refused to abide by a decision of the NBA and had left it to form another self-regulating authority.

Datar concluded by coaxing the court not to grant the requests of the petitioners to have a statutory body to regulate the electronic media as it would become difficult for the media to function independently. He also cited Supreme Court judgements wherein the apex court had refused to interfere or direct the legislative to form a statutory mechanism to regulate the electronic media. In light of this, Datar requested the court to not exercise its discretionary authority.

After hearing the submissions of the NBA and the NBSA, the bench sought to know from the MIB whether the two independent authorities were formed without any statutory powers so that channels could afford an escape route by invoking article 19(2) of the Constitution and approaching the courts when they were pulled up for irresponsible and objectionable reporting.

Datar, however, clarified that though the two independent authorities were allowed to address complaints against errant channels, the MIB was not restricted from taking action simultaneously as per the Cable TV Regulation Act. The court then asked the MIB to inform it on Wednesday as to why no action had been initiated by the ministry in respect of complaints.

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