Republic TV and Times Now reportage prima facie contemptuous: Bombay High Court

In the SSR media trial case, the court issued directions to be followed by the media while reporting but refrained from taking coercive action against the channels


A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni of the Bombay High Court has held that the media coverage by Republic TV and Times Now against Mumbai police in the case pertaining to death of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput is prima facie contemptuous but refrained from taking any action.

According to Bar and Bench, the court observed that trial by media interferes with the criminal investigation by Police and issued a slew of directions to the media to be followed while reporting incidents involving suicide and death of persons.  

Disposing of a batch of PILs seeking regulation of media trial, the Bench laid down several guidelines on reporting on crime. Some of the guidelines pronounced by the Bench in the open Court are as follows:

  • Publishing a confession alleged to have been made by an accused as if it is an admissible evidence without letting the public know about its inadmissibility should be avoided;
  • While reporting suicide, to suggest that the person was of weak character, should be avoided;
  • Reconstructing of crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information should be avoided;
  • Investigative agencies are entitled to keep secrecy about the ongoing investigation and they are under no obligation to divulge information.

The High Court has also adopted the suggestion of Senior Advocate Arvind Datar regarding the appointment of a Public Information Officer by Police to give authentic information about criminal investigations, reported LiveLaw.

The Division Bench has also clarified that its findings and observations in the judgment are not a reflection on the pending investigations and the concerned criminal court should decide the issues uninfluenced by the observations.

In previous hearings on the matter of media trial by channels in relation to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the court had reportedly asked the Advocates representing Republic TV, “If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge, what is the use of us? Why are we here? Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested? When a case is under investigation and the issue is whether it’s a homicide or a suicide and a channel is saying it is murder, is that investigative journalism?”

The Bombay High Court today, on January 18 was pronouncing its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking guidelines for ethical reporting and responsible journalism, by all forms of media, especially at the investigation stage.

(To be updated with order)


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