The Bombay High Court has said it expected that the media exercised restraint while reporting on the investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case so that the probe is not hampered.
A Bench of Justices A A Sayed and S P Tavade was hearing two PILs, including the one by eight former top police officers of Maharashtra, seeking restraining orders against ‘media trial’ in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
The court said: “We expect and urge the media to exercise restraint in reporting the investigation with respect to the case which would not hamper investigation in any manner.”
The petitioners include former DGPs P S Pasricha, K Subramaniam, D Shivanandan, Sanjeev Dayal, Satish Chandra Mathur and former commissioners of Mumbai Police Mahesh N Singh, Dhananjay N Jadhav and former Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief K P Raghuvanshi.
The PIL, filed Monday through Crawford Bayley & Company, senior counsel Milind Sathe and advocate Chetan Kapadi, sought an urgent hearing from the court.
“A section of television channels has been trying to influence the course of an investigation being done by central agencies through their biased reporting and false propaganda. This has created an air of suspicion in the minds of the general public as to the facts of the case under investigation and also about the Mumbai Police, health services and other support services of the state,” the PIL stated.
The plea added that “anchors of some TV channels have been virtually running a vituperative 24×7 campaign against Mumbai Police and its Commissioner, DCP of the zone and other officers by attacking them by name in the most unbecoming manner”.
The PIL sought various directions to the central government, Press Council of India, News Broadcasters’ Association, News Broadcasting Standards Authority and the state government to issue guidelines to media houses to refrain from publishing and circulating any false, derogatory and scandalous comments, social media posts, news stories, which would allegedly jeopardise the reputation of the police.
Senior advocate Milind Sathe for former IPS officers argued on Thursday that the reportage by TV news channels was a complete attempt to influence neutral investigation and petitioners do not have any view in this matter and are only concerned about maligning of Mumbai Police. “Such a piece of reporting is hatred and vilification of the Mumbai police. Coverage in electronic media is a parallel investigation and Mumbai police are called co-conspirators by some channels. The manner in which reporting is taking place, they’ve virtually taken over the investigation,” Sathe submitted.
Another PIL was filed by activists Nilesh Navlakha, Mahibub D Shaikh and Subhash Chander Chaba, through Senior Counsel Devadatt Kamat and advocate Rajesh Inamdar, stated that the nature of reporting by TV channels was of “sensationalism” and adversely impacts ongoing Central Bureau of Investigation probe.
“We are all for the freedom of the press. It is the fourth estate. This country will survive only if there is a vibrant media, but the media has certain responsibilities, which if transgressed will destroy the administration of justice. The channels even broadcasted photos of Sushant Singh Rajput’s corpse from his bedroom. This is totally against journalistic ethics and codes pertaining to media reporting issued by the Centre,” Kamat submitted.
The plea sought that the Programme Code as per Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 was required to be followed scrupulously. Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh for the central government sought time to respond to the plea.
After hearing submissions, the court issued notices to respondents and said that in the meanwhile it expected that media channels would practice restraint while reporting on the actor’s death case and do not hamper the investigation in any manner. ASG Singh said the court should not pass such an order without hearing the channels and that it would have large implications.
The high court said it would hear the representatives of TV channels and CBI before deciding on reliefs sought in PILs and posted further hearing next week.