Bombay High Court asks media to 'exercise restraint' in its coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput case

The court was hearing a PIL by eight former police officers that accused some media outlets of running a 'malicious campaign against the Mumbai police'.

ByNL Team
Bombay High Court asks media to 'exercise restraint' in its coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput case
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Hearing a Public Interest Litigation seeking strict regulation of the “media trial” in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, the Bombay High Court today said it “expects the media to exercise restraint” and ensure its coverage does not interfere with the investigation.

The PIL, filed by eight former directors general and commissioners of police in Maharashtra, also accused some media outlets of running a “malicious campaign against the Mumbai police”.

Citing the News Broadcasters Association's guidelines for “self regulation”, senior advocate Milind Sathe, representing the petitioners, submitted that "current reporting is everything which is prohibited in these guidelines". None of the petitioners, he added, had any stake in or opinion about the case itself or who investigated it. Their concern was purely about how the media was reporting the incident.

Sathe also referred to a media advisory from the Press Council of India conveying its “distress” at the fact that so many media organisations, in their coverage of the case, were in direct “contravention of the Norms of Journalistic Conduct framed by the PCI”. The advisory reminded journalists that they could not sensationalise or normalise suicide; publish information based on gossip; violate the privacy of the victim, witness, suspect, and accused; or produce prejudice in a viewer's mind.

Regarding the media's coverage of the Mumbai police, the advocate said it violated The Police Incitement of Disaffection Act, 1922.

To make their case, Sathe and his co-counsel, Devdatt Kamat, referred to multiple TV shows. While Times Now and its anchor Navika Kumar were named explicitly, the advocates also referred to shows hosted by Aaj Tak, Republic TV and Republic Bharat. For example, when Kamat referred to a show that had described the actor's death with the cricketing term “hit wicket”, he was speaking of Aaj Tak.

The lawyer also submitted that calling eye witness on live television was an attempt to interfere with the ongoing investigation.

Sathe referred to the Supreme Court's judgement in the Manu Sharma case and Kamat to the Arushi Talwar case to explain how irresponsible media trials could hamper investigations.

Kamat demanded that the central government “implement its own programme code made under the Cable TV Act”.

Calling this trial by media “a very antithesis of rule of law and can lead to miscarriage of justice”, Kamat urged the court to pass an order similar to the one passed by the apex court in the Arushi Talwar case, and restrain the media from conducting a “trial” and interfering with the administration of justice.

The Bombay High Court last week admitted a separate PIL by three activists asking it to stop the media from “scandalizing the death of Sushant Singh Rajput”.

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