Sushant Singh Rajput death: Bombay HC asks why there is no state mechanism to regulate content on news channels
The Bombay high court (HC) has directed the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to be included in the petitions filed by former Indian Police Service (IPS) officials and an activist regarding the ongoing separate investigations by three central agencies into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case.
The petitions were filed as an objection to a media trial after selective leaks were being made to a section of the media by the probe agencies following which the public were being prejudiced against Mumbai Police.
The court also sought to know about a lack of mechanism of the government authorities concerned to regulate electronic media and directed the prosecution of more channels against whom the petitioners had raised their objections.
An HC division bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni, heard the public interest litigations (PILs) filed by the former IPS officials and an activist.
The court was informed that even though the HC through its September 3 order had directed media channels to exercise restraint while reporting the investigations in the Rajput death case, some media houses and TV channels had shown scant regard for the order.
The petitions urged the HC to take note of the media houses and TV channels’ egregious conduct.
Senior advocate Dr Milind Sathe, who appeared on behalf of the eight ex-IPS officials, informed the court that after the September 3 order some channels had become more vociferous in their vilification campaign as far as Mumbai Police was concerned.
He placed the transcripts of some of the news channels on record to bolster his argument and submitted that the court should take cognisance and make these channels party to the petitions.
Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, who appeared for activist Nilesh Navlakha, concurred with the submissions of Dr Sathe.
Kamat alleged that the parallel trial by a section of the media had not ebbed as information of the investigation was being leaked by the probe agencies themselves.
Kamat agreed to the submissions made by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that it was not leaking any information to the media.
However, he singled out NCB and ED and prayed before the court that they be made a party to the petitions in a bid to ascertain whether information of the probe was being leaked by them to the media.
The News Broadcasting Standards Association (NBSA) through advocate Nisha submitted that the body was a self-regulating authority for news channels and had also received complaints from viewers about some news channels going overboard in their reporting of the Rajput case.
She submitted that the authority was looking into the complaints and would like to file a counter affidavit putting on record the action taken by them.
The court upheld her plea.
The News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) also sought to be included in the petitions as many channels were their members but were unrepresented.
The court upheld this submission as well.
The bench took note of advocate Asim Sarode’s separate petition that had sought directions to the authorities to put in place regulatory mechanisms on the functioning of the media.
“We are surprised that there is no regulating mechanism of the state to control the electronic media and are prima facie of the opinion that this body (NBSA) does not have teeth. The state may reply in affidavit and indicate the extent of state control that is exercised in respect of telecasting news which has serious ramifications and other ancillary matters which might come up for our consideration while deciding this matter,” the bench observed.
The court directed the inclusion of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Central government as party to all the petitions.
The court also directed the NBSA to hear the complaints received by them.
“The said pendency of these petitions shall not preclude NBSA to consider complaints that have been received by it and take appropriate actions as per law. Resultant decisions may be included in the affidavit,” it added.
All news channels, which have been made a party to the petitions, have been ordered to file affidavits by September 30.
The bench will hear the petitions next on October 8.
The court again reminded that the media must continue to exercise restraint while reporting on the investigation in the Rajput case in line with its September 3 order in a bid to ensure that the ongoing probe is not hampered.