The Supreme Court on Wednesday took strong exception to media trials by police and directed the Union Home Ministry to prepare guidelines for police to follow during press briefings in relation to criminal cases. The ministry has three months to prepare a detailed manual. The apex court was referring to biased reporting that gives rise to public suspicion that the person has committed an offence.
Underlining the need to sensitise police personnel, a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud directed top police officers of each state and the National Human Rights Commission to submit suggestions to the Home ministry within a month. Administration of justice is affected by media trials. Need to decide at which stage (of investigation) details should be disclosed.
This is a very important issue because it involves interests of victim and accused. It also involves the interest of the public at large. Media report on crime related matters involves many aspects of public interest, the Supreme Court said. At a basic level fundamental right to speech and expression is directly involved in the context of both the medias right to portray and broadcast ideas and news but we should not allow media trial.
The investigation can be affected if important evidence is revealed
People have the right to access information. But if important evidence is revealed during the investigation, the investigation can also be affected, the court argued. In 2017, the top court had asked the government to frame rules for police briefings keeping in mind rights of the accused and victim, and to ensure rights of both sides are not prejudiced or violated in any way. Hearing a petition relating to the 2017 instruction, the CJI-led bench said on Wednesday: The accused, whose conduct is under investigation, is entitled to a fair and unbiased investigation at every stage, every accused is entitled to presumption of innocence. Media reportage that implicates an accused is unfair.
Selective quoting of speeches and judgments, a matter of concern
Six months ago, the CJI urged journalists to maintain standards of accuracy, impartiality and responsibility in reporting. Selective quoting of speeches and judgments has become a matter of concern. This practice has a tendency to distort publics understanding of important legal issues. Judges decisions are often complex and nuanced, and selective quoting can give the impression a judgment means something different from what the judge intended, the court said. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, assured the court that the government will frame and release guidelines regarding media briefings by the police.