The Bombay High Court on Wednesday questioned Republic TV if asking viewers who should be arrested in a case that is under investigation, and infringing upon a person’s rights qualified as “investigative journalism”.
The court also asked the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) on why no suo motu action can be initiated for ‘irresponsible coverage’ of criminal sensitive matters and media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) by eight former senior police officers from Maharashtra, as well as activists, lawyers and NGOs seeking restraining orders against “media trial” in actor’s death case.
The bench was informed by the various news channels on allegations made by petitioners that the reporting in the case was not intended to influence or prejudice the minds of the court and contentions of the petitioners were unfounded.
Advocate Malvika Trivedi for Republic TV refuted claims of petitioner that the channel had tried to malign the name of Mumbai Police by accusing it of not carrying out an investigation in the case.
“There were some lacunae in the investigation by Mumbai police which the Supreme Court observed and hence allowed the investigation to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” Trivedi said. She added that the “demand for transfer of investigation was made by the family of the actor and since the celebrity died, the public was also curious to know the real facts.”
Trivedi submitted that investigative journalism to unearth facts related to the death case was undertaken by the news channel.
The court referred to the grievances raised by petitioners over hashtag and social media posts run by the channel seeking arrest of Rhea Chakraborty, following Rajput’s death. “Why is it part of your channel news? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested? Is this part of investigative journalism?” the court asked.
To this, Trivedi responded, “These are public tweets and public opinions. The petition does not ask for relief pertaining to this. I am only saying that there is a reason and context why these tweets are there and a person who is aggrieved and has a locus standi, can approach the self-regulatory mechanism agency and get relief.”
Thereafter, stating that the bench was not singling out Republic TV, the court sought to know that when the probe was underway in the case on whether it was homicide or suicide, why the channel had taken a stand that it was a murder and whether the same was part of its investigative journalism.
Trivedi said that in previous cases, including scams, media had played vital role in investigations and was appreciated for its contribution based on which arrests were made.
The bench further expressed concerns over the coverage of Sushant Rajput death case and said, “There are certain suicide reporting guidelines. There should be no sensational headlines. Do you not have respect for the deceased? It is so unfortunate,” the court said.
When Trivedi said that the court cannot say that the media should not come out with the truth, CJ Datta said, “We are not saying the media should be throttled from criticising government policies. Our concern is whether Programme code was followed or not. Whether your report contravenes any of the laid down norms or not. You must not crossover your boundary or Laxman Rekha.”
Earlier, the bench also heard submissions of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) wherein Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh submitted that existing self-regulatory mechanism was sufficient and there was no need for additional regulations.
ASG said that the ministry has laid down Programme Code, which has to be adhered to by electronic news channels and also it includes restrictions, which are to be followed by all channels irrespective of them being part of any self-regulatory organisation or not.
The bench will continue the hearing on PILs on Friday.