Sushant Singh Rajput death: Bombay HC raises concerns over ‘investigative journalism’ by news channelsUpdated: Oct 22, 2020, 00:34 IST
The Bombay high court (HC) while questioning the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) on why no suo motu action was initiated with regards to complaints against the alleged media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, also asked Republic TV how its statements asking the public to decide on who should be arrested in the case amounted to ‘investigative journalism’. The court while hearing responses of various news channels on the allegations made by the petitioners in the various public interest litigations (PILs) against them was informed that the reporting was not intended to influence or prejudice the minds of the judges or the court, and that the contentions of the petitioners were unfounded.
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni, while hearing the responses of NBF, was informed by advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar that the self-regulating authority had been abiding by the standards set out in the Cable TV Regulation Act just like other such bodies. Bhatnagar submitted that various courts including the Supreme Court had refrained from interfering in the existing mechanism.
Bhatnagar, however, was unable to respond to the court’s query as to why NBF had not taken any suo motu action against member channels after receiving complaints of media trial being conducted in SSR case.
Thereafter, advocate Malvika Trivedi for Republic TV responded to the allegations and sought to clarify that the submissions made by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) regarding Republic TV walking out of NBA due to harsh action initiated by them was not true.
She submitted that Republic TV left NBA as there were some disagreements between the NBA authorities and Republic TV on the issue of a reporter who initially worked with another channel but later joined Republic TV. She, however, added that it was just a clarification and would not have any impact on the ongoing case and hence would not go into the details of the disagreement.
Trivedi then countered the claims of the petitioners that the channel had tried to malign the name of the Mumbai Police by accusing it of not carrying out proper investigation in the case. “There were some lacunae in the investigation by the Mumbai Police which the Supreme Court observed and hence allowed the investigation to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” she said, adding that it was Rajput’s family that demanded transfer of the investigation. She also said that the public was also curious to know the real facts.
She further submitted that the reporting was part of the investigative journalism undertaken by the channel.
The court, then, referred to the hashtag ‘arrest Rhea Chakrobarty’ which was publicised by the channel and sought to know whether asking the public on who should be arrested was ‘investigative journalism’. Trivedi responded saying that it was on social media. “These are public tweets and public opinions. The petition does not ask for relief pertaining to this. I am only saying that there is a reason and context of these tweets. Any person, who is aggrieved and has a locus standi, can approach the self-regulatory authority and get relief.”
The bench then, assuring the channel that the bench was not singling it out, sought to know why the channel took the stand that it was a murder while investigation was underway in the case to decide whether it was a homicide or suicide. The court also asked if the stand taken by the channel was oart of ‘investigative journalism’.
Trivedi then drew the court’s attention to previous cases wherein the media had played a vital role in investigations and had also received applauds for contributions based on which arrests were made. “The Supreme Court has appreciated the work done by Republic TV in one of the cases,” said Trivedi.
While continuing hearing responses of other channels, the court observed that it did not intend to throttle the voice of the media, but expected the media to exercise restraint while reporting on sensitive issues and not cross the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ which was referred to by the petitioners.
The court will continue hearing the matter on Friday.