In a critical pronouncement, the Bombay High Court has ruled that media trials interfere with justice administration, and therefore amounts to contempt of Court. However, the Bench clarified that media trials become contemptuous only when judicial proceedings have started.
The Bench passed a slew of directions regulating media reporting of criminal investigations. The order was passed in the backdrop of media reports of the Sushant Singh death case. The Bench further observed that media trial violates provisions of the Cable TV Act and interferes with the criminal investigation.
Hon’ble Court also held that the Press Council of India guidelines would also apply to electronic media.
Guidelines pronounced by the Bench are as follows:-
- Publishing a confessional statement allegedly made by an accused as admissible evidence should not be done.
- While reporting a suicide case, the press should avoid suggesting that the person was of a weak character.
- Media should avoid Leaking sensitive information, interviews with witnesses and reconstruction of crime events.
- Investigative agencies are under no obligation to divulge information about an investigation.
The Bench agreed with Senior Counsel Arvind Datar’s suggestion for the appointment of a Public Information Officer to provide information about a criminal investigation.
After pronouncing guidelines, the Bench clarified that its observations and findings are not reflections on pending investigations and concerned courts should not be influenced by the observations.
During the hearing of the case which is going on for the past six months, the Court expressed concern about media trials and have warned the media not to cross boundaries.
The Bench remarked that even well-meaning police officers might get influenced by media trials and go after innocent people instead perpetrators of crimes.
A group of eight former cops have filed a PIL stating that they are aggrieved by slanderous reports by the media against Mumbai police. In this regard, the Court stated that criticism of Mumbai police by the media was unfair.
The COurt opined that Times Now and Republic TV coverage in Sushant Singh Rajput death case was prima facie contemptuous.