The Bombay High Court asked on Thursday if it was the media’s job to proffer advise to an investigating agency about how it should conduct a probe.
The remark was made by a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni during the hearing of public interest litigations (PILs) against the “media trial” in the actor Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
“Is it duty of media to advise an investigating agency? It is the duty of the investigating officer to apply his mind (in the probe),” the court said.
The judges made the comment when advocate Malvika Trivedi, representing a news channel which has been made a respondent, opposed the PILs.
Mr Trivedi opposed the arguments made by senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, the lawyer for a group of former police officers who have filed one of the PILs alleging that the Mumbai police were being maligned by the media in the Rajput case.
Mr Trivedi said there couldn’t be any gag order on reporting. “How can structured lines be drawn on role of media. What about the Hathras case? Isn’t the media’s role in the case important?” she asked.
The court pointed out that the PILs were not seeking a gag order but only asking for responsible journalism.
“He (Chinoy) is submitting that the media cannot intervene in investigations or declare who is guilty, who is not,” the bench said.
Advocate Chinoy argued that the press, particularly news channels, cannot pre-judge someone’s guilt, and pointed out a “hashtag” campaign run by a news channel calling for Rhea Chakraborty’s arrest in the Rajput case.
“Can you imagine the damage such a hashtag can do?….It is not the news channel’s job to decide on anyone’s guilt, or create perception of guilt or to suggest arrest,” he said.
When in a pending investigation a channel said “arrest x”, it crossed all lines, advocate Chinoy added.
While the Press Council of India has guidelines for the print media that warn against assigning guilt during ongoing probe, there are no guidelines for channels, he said.
The HC asked if the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) had passed any orders on the complaints received against news channels.
Advocate Nisha Bhambhani, the NBSA’s lawyer, said that most complaints were heard and “an apology had been sought from news channels”.
“Is apology enough,” the court asked.
Advocate Bhambhani said the NBSA will submit guidelines if required. But advocate Rajesh Inamdar, lawyer for another petitioner, pointed out thatmost news channels were not members of the NBSA.
The court then sought the Union government’s response on the issue on Monday and adjourned the hearing.
Rhea Chakraborty, who is facing an abetment of suicide case in connection with her boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, was given bail by another high court bench on Wednesday in a drug case connected to the matter.