Master of Media Trials: From Sunanda Pushkar to Rhea Chakraborty, Arnab is a Habitual Offender

Social Commentary

Master of Media Trials: From Sunanda Pushkar to Rhea Chakraborty, Arnab is a Habitual Offender

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The Sushant Singh Rajput case has unfortunately devolved into a “media trial”. While the investigation continues by the various agencies, it is news anchors who have tried to play Sherlock from the confines of their studios. Insinuation, hyperbole, and decoding

Whatsapp chat has replaced journalism. But the Rajut case is not the first instance of trial by TV. They have become all too common and a regular offender is Arnab Goswami. The Republic TV editor-chief is now pulled up by the Delhi High Court over his coverage of the Sunanda Pushkar case.

The High Court has been taking notice of the ongoing media circus and questioned Arnab Goswami for holding a parallel enquiry in the death case of Sunanda Pushkar, the wife of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. It has instructed him to exercise restraint in his reportage.

The court was hearing Shashi Tharoor’s plea, which sought an interim injunction against Goswami, so that he could be restrained from broadcasting Pushkar’s case as it was still pending. Senior counsel Kapil Sibal pointed out that despite the chargesheet not citing a murder case, Goswami has repeatedly claimed that Pushkar was murdered.

This led to some scathing questioning by the court. “Were you there at the spot, are you an eyewitness?” the court asked. “Do you even know what constituted murder? You need to first understand what murder is before claiming that a murder took place,” it said. As Goswami’s lawyer Malvika Trivedi tried to argue that the TV anchor had credible evidence from a doctor at AIIMS, the court rebuked it stating that he was not in the field of evidence collection.

“Can the media sit in appeal against the chargesheet filed by an investigating agency? It is not a reflection on the plaintiff (Tharoor) but the investigating agency. Can there be a parallel investigation or trial? Would you not like the courts to take their own course?” Justice Mukta Gupta asked.

As Goswami’s counsel fumbled for an answer, the judge remarked, “People must take a course in criminal trial and then get into journalism.” This jab summed up the court’s annoyance with what was being aired on news channels these days. “Please show restraint. Once the police investigation is going on in the criminal case, there cannot be a parallel investigation by the media,” the judge said.

The High Court referred to a December 1, 2017 order passed in the matter in which it was stated, “Press cannot ‘convict anyone’ or insinuate that he/she is guilty or make any other unsubstantiated claims. Press has to exercise care and caution while reporting about matters under investigation or pending trial.”

If there is someone who can put a stop to Goswami’s meaningless tirades, it is the courts of the country. One wishes that the remarks by the High Court will lead to sensible coverage instead of sensationalism, whether in the case of Sunanda Pushkar or Rhea Chakraborty. India’s TV anchors need to be reminded that journalism is about the pursuit for truth and not TRPs.