The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of a District court in Delhi criticised the media and Press for reporting on alleged confessional statements of Umar Khalid without clarifying whether or not such statements have evidentiary value in trial. The CMM said that the reporters must have knowledge of the law.
“A reporter should have such a basic knowledge of law as readers/viewers consider news items as true without verifying the facts. Further, the general public might not be aware of the law as mentioned above. Therefore, it is the duty of the Press and Media to inform and educate its readers and viewers about all the relevant facts and circumstances of a news item published or shown on the News channel”, said CMM Dinesh Kumar.
While citing a top court pronouncement, the Magistrate also held how a person’s reputation is his valuable asset and is a facet of his right under Article 21 of the Constitution. “Any act of the Media which might deprive the accused of his dignity would have an adverse effect on his rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. Therefore, any news item should be published after verifying and clarifying all the facts related to the said news item”, the court added.
Dr. Khalid, who has been accused of conspiracy in the Delhi riots of 2020, approached the court praying that he has been prejudiced by the various reports published in various newspapers and shown on various news channels. He alleged that even before he could peruse the chargesheet, it was leaked to the media. Further, he claimed that various print and television media houses had cited purported segments of supplementary charge sheet to convey that he had admitted to having conspired to fuel the North-East Delhi riots of February, 2020 and to having involved children and women for organising Chakka Jams (road blockage).
The CMM then reportedly observed, “The news reports have only highlighted that accused Umar Khalid had confessed his involvement in the crimes… However, none of the news items is shown to have made a clarification to its readers/viewers that such a statement, even if actually made, could not be used by the prosecution as evidence.”
The Magistrate cited one of the news items and said, “The news starts with words ‘Radical Islamist and Anti Hindu Delhi Riots accused Umar Khalid….’. The said news item portrays the entire Delhi riots as Anti Hindu Riots. However, in fact this does not appear to be the case, as all the communities have felt the consequences of those riots. Such news items might show to the public at large that accused Umar Khalid had infact confessed/admitted his role in Delhi riots. However, it is the duty of the judicial system to decide a case on merits after trial.”
The court has requested the reporters to practice self-regulation techniques while publishing or showing a news item related to a case pending investigation or trial so that no prejudice is caused to any accused or any other party. “Self-regulation is the best mode of regulation”, said CMM Dinesh Kumar.
On this issue, the court also remarked that media trials cannot destroy the presumption of innocence. “This should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial. Protection of such presumption is essential for maintenance of the dignity of the courts and is one of the cardinal principles of the rule of law in a free democratic country”, he said.
Since Dr. Umar Khalid did not make any specific prayer in the application, the Court did not issue any specific direction, except making a general appeal that the media exercises certain restraints.
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