By Arré Bench Jan. 18, 2021
The Bombay High Court pulled up news channels over the media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. It stated that parts of the coverage by Republic TV and Times Now in the case was “prima facie contemptuous” of the Mumbai Police.
While the police were investigating the Sushant Singh Rajput case, a parallel trial was being conducted by news channels. Reporters were stationed outside houses, they were chasing cars and shoving microphones down people’s throats. Fingers were pointed at the Mumbai Police and even the police commissioner’s name was maligned in what can only be described as an embarrassing spectacle for Indian news media.
The Bombay High Court has now weighed in on the matter. It stated that parts of the coverage by Republic TV and Times Now in the Sushant Singh Rajput case was “prima facie contemptuous” of the Mumbai Police. The court said it would not take “any action as of now” but made it clear that media trial during investigation in a case “does impact the investigation”.
The court was hearing a petition filed by eight former Indian Police Service officers that objected to the negative portrayal of the Mumbai police by a section of the media, according to news reports. “Media trial leads to interference and obstruction to administration of justice and violates programme code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act,” the judges said. “Any reportage has to be in accordance with the norms of journalistic standards and ethics, else media houses stand to face contempt action,” they added.
“Reconstructing of crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information should be avoided,” the bench said. “Press/media ought to avoid discussions, debates relating to criminal investigation and should confine only to informative reports in such matters in public interest,” they added. The judges asked Republic TV lawyers a point blank question: “If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge, what is the use of us?”
In an earlier hearing, the court had questioned whether Republic TV seeking viewer’s opinion on who should be arrested counted as “investigative journalism”.
This is not the first time the courts took channels to task. In an earlier hearing, the court had questioned whether Republic TV seeking viewer’s opinion on who should be arrested counted as “investigative journalism”. “When a case is under investigation and the issue is whether it’s a homicide or a suicide and a channel is saying it is murder, is all this investigative journalism?” the judges had asked.
Republic TV had stated that their reportage had helped unearth important elements in the case. “Journalists have a right to bring public opinion to the forefront and criticise the government. It is not necessary that everyone will appreciate what is being projected by news channels. However, if a news makes a certain section uncomfortable, it is the essence of a democracy,” news agency Press Trust of India had reported, quoting the channel’s counsel Malvika Trivedi.
A section of the news media disgraced itself during the coverage in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Not only do they owe an apology to some of the people they accused on prime time every night without proof, but also to the justice system, running a media trial from their studios. Will they apologise to all the Bollywood stars they defamed? Or the Mumbai Police that they slandered day in and day out? Is TRP the be-all and end-all?
The Sushant Singh Rajput case was a dark chapter in the history of Indian media, and one that will take them a long time to redeem themselves from.