Media trial in Sushant Singh Rajput case: Bombay high court says journalists have lost their neutrality

Published on Oct 23, 2020 11:41 PM IST
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ByK A Y Dodhiya

The Bombay high court (HC) did not mince words while pointing out to the fact that journalists today have lost their neutrality and the media has become polarised. The observations were made by the bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni on Friday while hearing public interest litigations against the media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. The court was prompted to make the observations after the advocate of one of the respondent channels submitted a report authored in 1947 by a European institute, which analysed options between self-regulation and statutory regulation for the media, and concluded that there was no need for government control.

While clarifying that the channel was not guilty of the allegations made by the petitioners as it was not named by any of the petitions, advocate Ankit Lohia appearing for Zee News, however, said that he wanted make submissions in support of the contentions of other channels that there was no need for government interference in functioning of channels. He cited a 1947 report of a European institute and stated that the report had made it clear that the media should self-regulate instead of any statutory regulation.

The chief justice made an observation on the submissions of Lohia and said, “We are ruled by the rule of law. In India there is a rule of law, right? How do you advocate that people who go around accusing others can find shelter of freedom of press? Journalists back then were responsible and neutral, now the media is polarised.”

Justice Kulkarni then questioned Lohia why he referred to the 1947 report and not to the 1983 Law Commission report which had compared the media regulation model of India with that of European countries and had suggested that there was a need for checks and balances in the functioning of the media in India.

After Lohia responded to the query stating that the media was not averse to being regulated, the bench observed, “This is not a question of regulation. This is a question of checks and balances. People forget where to draw lines. Do it within lines. You [news media] want to criticise government, do it. The issue in the present case is that someone has died and the allegation is you are interfering.”

Thereafter, senior advocate Alankar Kirpekar for India TV and advocate Zeeshan Hashmi for News Nation channels also made submissions and drew the attention of the court to the fact that the media trial in the actor’s death case was a one of an instance, and hence the court should not insist on having statutory regulation on the media. They even submitted that the media was controlled by the government in countries such as China and Bangladesh, as a result of which, their independence was ranked very low internationally.

Meanwhile, additional solicitor general Anil Singh, representing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) stated that the petitioners’ claims about information pertaining to the investigation in Rajput’s death case being leaked to selective media was misconceived and the three agencies had categorically denied the allegation through their affidavit.

On the request of one of the petitioners, the court agreed to have further hearing in the matter next week on October 29.

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