The Hon’ble High Court of Bombay vide judgement dated 18.01.2020 condemned the irresponsible and reckless reporting done by news channels namely Republic TV and Times Now on the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput and held the same to be in brazen disregard of the rule of law.
The said judgement was pronounced in response to several writ petitions filed in the last few months criticizing the irresponsible journalism showcased by various media platforms and thereby praying for reliefs against the same.
A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni observed that media trial not only runs counter to the Program Code framed under the Cable TV Act but also interferes with the criminal investigation by police.
Crucially, the Bench which comprised Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni also gave a clean chit to Mumbai Police stating that as per the Supreme Court’s August 2020 order, the Mumbai Police cannot be accused of any wrong doing and criticism by media was unfair.
“While inquiry/investigation by Mumbai Police was strenuously asserted by these TV channels to be shoddy and questionable, the Supreme Court in its order dated August 19, 2020 recorded prima facie satisfaction of Mumbai Police not having indulged in any wrong doing,” the judgment noted.
The Court observed that persistent criticism could bring down the morale of the police force, prove counter-productive and damage a good, clean image which a police officer may have built over the years.
The Court also went on to urge both Republic TV and Times Now to resist their temptation to sensationalize while reporting news.
While holding that the reporting by Republic TV and Times Now was contemptuous and interfered with the administration of justice, the Court refrained from initiating action for criminal contempt against these channels.
The Court held in affirmative that these two news channels had interfered and obstructed in the administration of justice with their contemptuous reporting. However, it refrained from issuing contempt notice only because the nature of proceedings before them were to consider public interest.
“Every journalist/ reporter has an overriding duty to the society of educating the masses with fair, accurate, trustworthy and responsible reports relating to reportable events and above all to the standards of his/her profession. Thus, the temptation to sensationalize should be resisted,” the Court said.
The Court also opined that this sort of reporting by the media was prejudicial to the interest of the accused and could dent the process of a future fair trial and derail due administration of criminal justice.
The Division Bench also took judicial notice of the hardships faced by Rhea Chakraborty because of the unfair reporting of these channels.
“The actress, although entitled to her rights to life and equal protection of the laws, protected by Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution, and the right guaranteed by Article 20(3) thereof to maintain silence, was painted as the villain of the piece, had the rug below the presumption of innocence removed, and received the media’s verdict that she is guilty of orchestrating the actor’s murder, much before filing of a police report under section 173(2), CrPC,” the judgment stated.
The Court was apprised that Republic TV propagated the idea that the actor may have been “killed” and planted the doubt about whether Mumbai Police can be trusted with the investigation.
The Court was not amused to note “Republic TV doffed its own hat, in appreciation of what its team had achieved, without realizing that it could be irking and invite adverse comments.”
Times Now on their part, had expressed their views that the Mumbai Police had not done its job properly compelling the media to do the work of securing justice for the actor.
The Court was surprised to note that the channel went to the extent of calling the PILs against media trial before Bombay High Court an attempt to stall the ongoing CBI investigation.
Even though the Hon’ble High Court refrained from issuing contempt notice against contemptuous telecast of reports/ discussions /debates/interviews by these two channels on the death of Rajput and subsequent events, the Court expressed their hope that they will act more responsibly in the future and not compel Courts to issue contempt notice in future.