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SC notice to centre, media

“Irresponsible” coverage of the Aarushi murder case forces the Supreme Court to consider laying down guidelines for reporting criminal cases during investigation and trial, reports Satya Prakash.

delhi Updated: Aug 18, 2008 23:31 IST
Satya Prakash

“Irresponsible” coverage of the Aarushi murder case has forced the Supreme Court to consider laying down guidelines for reporting criminal cases during investigation and trial.

Acting on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) highlighting the “flawed” media coverage of the case, a bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice Markandey Katju on Monday issued notices to the Centre, Uttar Pradesh government, Press Council of India, prominent English dailies and television news channels seeking their views on framing guidelines for reporting sub-judice matters.

“We want to lay down general guidelines and not target any individual,” the court said, directing them to respond to the petition by advocate Surat Singh within two weeks. The bench fixed September 23 as the next date of hearing.

Fourteen-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found murdered at her Noida home on May 17.

A day later, the body of their domestic help Hemraj was found on the terrace. Police arrested her father and kept him in custody for 50 days before declaring him innocent.

Expressing anguish over the intrusive reporting based on selective information leaked by the police during the investigation, the court asked the media to be “more responsible” in reporting sub-judice cases as it could damage the reputation of the victim’s family.

“We are not worried about ourselves. We have sufficiently broad shoulder but we are concerned about the reputation of people as was in Dr (Rajesh) Talwar’s case,” the bench, which had on July 22 asked the media to exercise “restraint” while reporting the Aarushi murder case said.

The court, however, made it clear that there would be no attempt to gag the media.

Observing that both print and electronic media had reached all blocks and villages and they had a powerful influence, the court said: “Media has to be more responsible. They must not do anything by which investigation is prejudiced against the accused.”

Referring to Aarushi-Hemraj murder case, it asked: “what is the positive evidence against them (accused)?”

It pointed out that the freedom given to the media under the Constitution was not absolute and it was subject to several reasonable restrictions.

The court requested Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium to assist it on behalf of the government.

As petitioner Surat Singh submitted that after the July 22 order media had observed restraint in reporting Aarushi murder case, the court said the directions asking media to exercise caution and restraint in reporting or telecasting matters would continue.

Accusing the media and the police of maligning the victim’s family, Singh demanded action against the investigators for unnecessarily keeping Talwar in custody for 50 days. He also sought a direction for setting up a five-judge “criminal justice system reforms committee”. .