The Bombay supreme court Wednesday sought to understand from Republic TV if asking viewers who should be arrested during a case during which a search goes on, 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 are often initiated for ‘irresponsible coverage’ of criminal sensitive matters and media trial within the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
A division bench of judge Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) by eight former senior cops from Maharashtra, also as activists, lawyers and NGOs seeking restraining orders against “media trial” in actor’s death case.
The bench was informed by the varied news channels on allegations made by petitioners that the reporting within the case wasn’t 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 completing an investigation within the case.
“There were some lacunae within 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 general public was also curious to understand the important facts.”
Trivedi submitted that investigative journalism to unearth facts associated with the death case was undertaken by the news channel.
The court mentioned the grievances raised by petitioners over hashtag and social media posts travel by the channel seeking arrest of Rhea Chakraborty, following Rajput’s death. “Why is it a part of “> a part of your channel news? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested? is that this part of investigative journalism?” the court asked.
To this, Trivedi responded, “These are public tweets and public opinions. The petition doesn’t invite relief concerning this. i’m only saying that there’s a reason and context why these tweets are there and an individual who is aggrieved and features a locus standi, can approach the self-regulatory mechanism agency and obtain relief.”
Thereafter, stating that the bench wasn’t singling out Republic TV, the court sought to understand that when the probe was underway within the case on whether it had been homicide or suicide, why the channel had taken a stand that it had been a murder and whether an equivalent was a 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 supported 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. does one not have respect for the deceased? it’s so unfortunate,” the court said.
When Trivedi said that the court cannot say that the media shouldn’t begin with the reality , CJ Datta said, “We aren’t saying the media should be throttled from criticising government policies. Our concern is whether or not Programme code was followed or not. Whether your report contravenes any of the laid down norms or not. you want to not crossover your boundary or Laxman Rekha.”
Earlier, the bench also heard submissions of Ministry of data and Broadcasting (MIB) wherein Additional lawman Anil Singh submitted that existing self-regulatory mechanism was sufficient and there was no need for extra regulations.
ASG said that the ministry has laid down Programme Code, which has got to be adhered to by electronic news channels and also it includes restrictions, which are to be followed by all channels regardless of them being a part of any self-regulatory organisation or not.
The bench will continue the hearing on PILs on Friday.