Media trial contemptuous
On Monday January 18, the Bombay High Court has specifically spelt out that media trials
during the investigation of any case, violates programme code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act and tends to influence an ongoing probe. The Court order says that the Press Council of India (PCI) guidelines will apply to the electronic media along with print media until such time as the electronic media frames its own guidelines. The Court was responding to Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by former police officials, activists, lawyers and NGOs in the aftermath of the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide which a section of television media had claimed was murder. The same media then conducted a media trial against certain individuals that were close to the deceased actor and vilified them relentlessly.
The Court held that trial by media has the potential to interfere with the criminal justice system even while it pointed out the names of two television channels and said what they did was “prima facie contemptuous.” However, the Court has for now refrained from initiating action against the channels. What also came within the remit of the Court is the failure of the
Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to take necessary action on media channels that have exceeded their brief. The Court observed that the MIB had “abdicated statutory functions” by restraining channels that went overboard in their reportage of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
The Court observed that media should avoid putting photographs of victims and accused and said that reconstruction of a crime scene has the potential to adversely influence investigations. Last years a slew of PILs had come up seeking injunctions against certain media houses that had taken upon themselves the onus of an investigation agency and even hounded witnesses. The Court had also questioned the Central Government as to why it should not frame guidelines on media coverage of sensitive criminal matters and ongoing investigations, and whether “excessive” reporting by the press amounted to interference in the administration of justice under the Contempt of Courts Act.
The Sushant Singh Rajput death case was unprecedented in scale as far as media hype and hoopla over it was concerned. The hype was intended to influence the Bihar elections last year. Interestingly, the matter suddenly died down once the elections were over. Reason being that Rajput was from Bihar and the BJP had sought to gain brownie points from the episode. The Court reminded all of the dictum – right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty – which it said was grossly violated by the media which conducts its own trials, thereby prejudicing the case.
It’s a timely reminder to the media to interrogate its own actions.