Bombay HC to TV channels: Show restraint in cases under investigation

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday said electronic news channels should exercise restrain and ‘regulate’ their coverage, debates and discussion when an investigation is going on in any criminal case. The court also observed that media should only provide information that is “informative and in public interest”. The court made these observations in an oral order, in response to a clutch of public interest litigations (PILs), which had sought the court’s intervention in alleged ‘media sensationalism’ with regard to the coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and its investigation.

The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni said that a media trial in an ongoing probe violates the programme code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act. It also impacts the investigation. The court ruled that the Press Council of India (PCI) guidelines will apply to electronic media as well, along with the Print Media, till it frames its own guidelines. The court refrained from initiating any action. However, it observed that some reporting by news channels was ‘prima facie contemptuous’. The PILs were filed in August 2020 and the division bench had reserved its judgement on November 6, 2020.

The PILs were filed by activists, lawyers, NGOs and eight former police officers, who sought the court’s intervention to stop the alleged ‘media trial’ when the investigation was still on. The court in its order observed that trial by media would amount to interference with the investigation and hence may amount to contempt. The court also suggested that the Mumbai Police should consider appointing a nodal officer to brief media on developments on the major cases. Also, the court made it clear that its findings and observations in the ruling are not a reflection on the pending investigations, and the concerned criminal court should decide the issue uninfluenced by the High Court’s observations.

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