Justice Prathiba M. Singh of the Delhi High Court heard Disha Ravi’s plea on restricting the Delhi Police from leaking information about the toolkit FIR against her and issued directions to media channels.
According to LiveLaw, the court directed editors of Times Now, India Today and News18 to ensure that proper editorial control is exercised while disseminating information, so that the ongoing investigation is not hampered. “Right to privacy, the sovereignty and integrity of the country and the freedom of speech need to be balanced…While press briefings are held generally the media cannot disseminate the information in such a sensationalised manner,” the court reportedly observed.
Bar & Bench reported that the Single-judge Bench said that all media outlets need to make sure that telecast is from authentic and verified sources. “While a journalist cannot be asked to reveal their source, the same has to be authentic. The Delhi Police claims that it has not leaked anything whereas the media claims to the contrary,” said Justice Singh.
Further, the Bench directed the Delhi Police to ensure the Office Memorandum issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on April 1, 2010 titled, Advisory on Media Policy of Police for reporting on ongoing criminal cases, is abided by, reported LiveLaw. A direction has also been made to ensure that Disha Ravi does not indulge in maligning the Delhi Police and other authorities. The court granted time to the respondents to file their detailed affidavits in the matter.
Appearing for Disha Ravi, Senior Advocate Amit Sibal told the Court that the first relief that he seeks is a direction to all the respondents to desist from making any reference to the purported WhatsApp chats between Disha and Greta Thunberg. He submitted that one of the respondents, News18, had gone into detailed particulars of what questions were purportedly posed to Ravi and what answers she purportedly gave. He added that India Today ran even more detailed statements, with “in-built commentary”.
He told the court that half-baked, speculative information about an ongoing investigation was being disseminated and the narrative is that she panicked and tried to delete all messages. He further contended that the Media must stick to and operate within the Programme Code, referring to an Office Memorandum of 2010, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs which is an advisory on Media policy of Police for reporting on ongoing criminal cases.
LiveLaw quoted him saying, “The stage of arrest is over, investigation is ongoing, and it will culminate in any final report. Where is the occasion to share anything then? Hence, I seek the relief…All we’re saying is till the filing of the chargesheet please don’t share case file record with the media”.
Senior Advocate Hrishikesh Baruah appearing for IndiaToday, responded to the allegations and said, “There is only one allegation against me. There was a digital write up, no news broadcast at all. Therefore, the Cable News Programme Code doesn’t apply to me. My article is of February 16, 2021, it is the admitted position of the petitioner that the matter was out in the public domain by February 15, therefore I haven’t violated her privacy”.
Times Now channel representative, Advocate Kunal Tandon submitted that Ravi cannot claim the right to privacy as the instant matter is of immense public importance. As held by the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India, the right to privacy is subservient to public interest, he argued.
Senior Counsel Sibal interjected, as per a LiveLaw report, and said, “Public interest and interest of the public are not the same thing. They must not disclose anything from the case file which is not part of the public record”.
Amit Sibal pointed out that on February 14, the Twitter handle of Delhi Police was activated to tweet about Ravi’s arrest as a key conspirator in the Toolkit case. He said, “I am on the point that the FIR did not reflect any particular name. I was arrested in Bangalore, brought to Delhi, I deposed before the Magistrate, no information was given to my lawyer about when I would be produced but the media was there in large numbers. On February 15, there was a press briefing and the news channels started disseminating what were purported WhatsApp chats… We have submitted videos with timestamps. In the press briefing on the other hand, the Police Commissioner said that highly incriminating evidence was found that Disha Ravi had disseminated the Toolkit and coaxed Greta Thunberg to post the same”.
Justice Singh asked if any information was leaked to the media channels by the Delhi Police. It sought the Additional Solicitor General SV Raju’s (appearing for Delhi Police) stance with respect to media claims that they received details from the Delhi Police.
However, ASG Raju maintained that no information was leaked from their end. He said, “Whatever the journalist is saying cannot be taken as the gospel truth. In fact, whatever is being reported also may not be true”, reported LiveLaw. He blamed the petitioner Disha Ravi for vilifying the Delhi police, so as to put pressure on them.
ASG Raju asked, “It is a systematic attempt to blame the police and derail investigation. The police seized the phone on 13th, the messages were sent on 3rd. Why is she (Ravi) not questioning the people to whom the messages were sent? Why defame the Delhi Police?”
Advocate Nisha Bhambhani, appearing for News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), stated that no complaint was received by the NBSA and if any complaints had been received, NBSA would have taken action. Counsel for News18, Advocate Mrinal Bharti sought some time to file a response, to which the Court observed, “There is no doubt that the video is very, very sensational.”
According to Bar & Bench, the Single-judge Bench said that the question of removal of content already online would be considered at a later stage and highlighted the importance of media, “The media plays a very important role in ensuring there is no sensationalisation and that they indulge in responsible journalism. Recent coverage by the media definitely shows there is prejudicial and sensational journalism which is being undertaken by the media houses”.
Disha Ravi had moved the High Court on February 18, seeking directions to the Delhi Police to prevent them from leaking any information to media outlets that impinge her right to privacy and fair trial.
The matter will now be heard on March 17.
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