SSR Death Case: Bombay HC Asks Media To Practice Restraint

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Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has directed the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to be included in the petitions filed by former Indian Police Service (IPS) officials and an activist in the Sushant Singh Rajput death investigation.

The High Court sought to know why some media and TV channels haven’t been restraining their coverage even after the HC’s order of September 3. It raised questions over the lack of government mechanisms to regulate the electronic media. It also directed the prosecution of channels against whom the petitioners had raised their objections.

The petitions were filed as an objection to a media trial after selective leaks were being made to a section of the media by the probe agencies following which the public was being prejudiced against Mumbai Police, reported Hindustan Times.

The bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni, heard the public interest litigations (PILs) urging the HC to take note of the media houses and TV channels’ egregious conduct.

Appearing on behalf of the eight ex-IPS officials, senior advocate Dr Milind Sathe informed the court that after the September 3 order some channels had become more vociferous in their vilification campaign as far as Mumbai Police was concerned.

He placed the transcripts of some of the news channels on record in support of his argument and submitted that the court should take cognizance and make these channels party to the petitions.

Appearing on behalf of activist Nilesh Navlakha, Devadatt Kamat alleged that the parallel trial by a section of the media had not ebbed, as information of the investigation was being leaked by the probe agencies themselves.

With the exception of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Kamat requested the court to make NCB and EB party to the petitions in a bid to ascertain whether information of the probe was being leaked by them to the media.

The News Broadcasting Standards Association (NBSA) through advocate Nisha also submitted that the body was a self-regulating authority for news channels and had also received complaints from viewers about some news channels going overboard in their reporting of the Rajput case.

She submitted that the authority was looking into the complaints and would like to file a counter-affidavit putting on record the action taken by them. She also sought the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) to be included in the petitions as many channels were its members but were unrepresented.

The court upheld both her pleas.

However, in a separate petition, the bench took note of advocate Asim Sarode’s petition to direct authorities to put in place regulatory mechanisms on the functioning of the media.

“We are surprised that there is no regulating mechanism of the state to control the electronic media and are prima facie of the opinion that this body (NBSA) does not have teeth. The state may reply in an affidavit and indicate the extent of state control that is exercised in respect of telecasting news which has serious ramifications and other ancillary matters which might come up for our consideration while deciding this matter,” the bench observed, quoted Hindustan Times.

The court directed the inclusion of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Central government as a party to all the petitions.

The court also directed the NBSA to hear the complaints received by them.

“The said pendency of these petitions shall not preclude NBSA to consider complaints that have been received by it and take appropriate actions as per law. Resultant decisions may be included in the affidavit,” it added.

Moreover, all the news channels, which have been made a party to the petitions, have been ordered to file affidavits by September 30.

The next date of hearing is October 8.

However, the court reiterated that the media must continue to exercise restraint while reporting on the investigation in the Rajput case in line with its September 3 order in a bid to ensure that the ongoing probe is not hampered.

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