The Bombay High Court on Monday asked media houses to exercise restraint when reporting on suicide cases, saying "media trial leads to interference and obstruction to administration of justice" and amounts to contempt of court.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni said the press must avoid discussions and debates relating to criminal investigations, and it should confine only to informative reportage that is in public interest.
The bench also held that prima facie some reportage by Republic TV and Times Now in the aftermath of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput were "contemptuous".
The court said it had, however, decided against initiating any action against the two TV channels under the Contempt of Courts Act.
Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court directed the TV and electronic media to adhere to the guidelines issued by Press Council of India.
Here are the guidelines issued by the Press Council of India:
1. Accuracy and Fairness:
i) The Press shall avoid publishing inaccurate, baseless, graceless, or misleading material. All sides of the core issue or subject should be reported.
ii) Whenever exposing the wrong doing such reports need to be backed by convincing facts and evidences.
2. Pre-Publication Verification:
i) Any report or article of public interest or complaint etc. should be checked for its factual accuracy from other authentic sources.
ii) A document, which forms a basis of a news report, should be preserved at least for six months.
3. Caution against defamatory writings:
i) Newspaper should not publish anything which is defamatory or libelous unless after due verification, there is sufficient reason/evidence to believe that it is true and its publication will be for public good.
ii) No derogatory personal remarks against a dead person should be published except in rare cases of public interest. .
iv) Publication of defamatory news by one paper does not give licence to others to publish news/information reproducing or repeating the same.
v) Freedom of Press does not give licence to a newspaper to malign a political leader or by publishing fake and defamatory writings.
vi) Truth is no defence for publishing derogatory, scurrilous and defamatory material against a private citizen where no public interest is involved.
vii) The Press has a duty, discretion and right to serve the public interest by drawing readers’ attention to citizens of doubtful antecedents and of questionable character but as responsible journalists they should observe restraint and caution in hazarding their own opinion or conclusion in branding these persons as ‘cheats’, ‘killers’ etc. The cardinal principle being that the guilt of a person should be established by proof of facts alleged and not by proof of bad character of the accused. In the zest to expose, the Press should not exceed the limits of ethical caution and fair comment.
4. Right to Privacy:
The Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest.
5. Conjecture, comment and fact:
Newspaper should not pass on or elevate conjecture, speculation or comment as a statement of fact.
Cartoons and caricatures depicting good humour are to be placed in a special category of news that enjoy more liberal attitude.
6. Caution in criticizing judicial acts and reporting proceedings of a Legislature:
It is open to a newspaper to report pending judicial proceedings, in a fair, accurate and reasonable manner.
In case of Legislature, newspapers have a duty to report faithfully the proceedings of either House of Parliament or Legislative Assembly which is open for the media.
Newspapers may make reasonable criticism of a judicial act or the judgment of a court for public good but shall not scandalize the court or the judiciary as a whole, or make personal allegations of lack of ability or integrity against a judge.
7. Caste, religion or community references:
In general, the caste identification of a person or a particular class should be avoided. Newspapers are advised against the use of word 'Scheduled Caste' or 'Harijan' which has been objected to by some.
An accused or a victim shall not be described by his caste or community .
Newspaper should not publish any fictional literature distorting and portraying the religious or well known characters in an adverse light offending the vulnerability of large sections of society who hold those characters in high esteem.
It is the duty of the newspaper to ensure that the tone, spirit and language of a write up is not objectionable, provocative, against the unity and integrity of the country.
8. Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters:
a. The investigative reporter should, as a rule, base his story on facts investigated, detected and verified by himself and not on hearsay or on derivative evidence collected by a third party, not checked up from direct, authentic sources by the reporter himself.
b. There being a conflict between the factors which require openness and those which necessitate secrecy, the investigative journalist should strike and maintain in his report a proper balance between openness on the one hand and secrecy on the other, placing the public good above everything.
c. The investigative journalist should resist the temptation of quickness or quick gains conjured up from half-baked incomplete, doubtful facts, not fully checked up; and verified from authentic sources by the reporter himself.
d. Imaginary facts, or ferreting out or conjecturing the non-existent should be scrupulously avoided. Facts, facts and yet more facts are vital and they should be checked and cross-checked whenever possible until the moment the paper goes to press.
e. The newspaper must adopt strict standards of fairness and accuracy of facts. Findings should be presented in an objective manner, without exaggerating or distorting, that would stand up in a court of law, if necessary.
f. The reporter must not approach the matter or the issue under investigation, in a manner as though he were the prosecutor or counsel for the prosecution. The reporter’s approach should be fair, accurate and balanced. All facts properly checked up, both for and against the core issues, should be distinctly and separately stated, free from any one-sided inferences or unfair comments. The tone and tenor of the report and its language should be sober, decent and dignified, and not needlessly offensive, barbed, derisive or castigator, particularly while commenting on the version of the person whose alleged activity or misconduct is being investigated. Nor should the investigative reporter conduct the proceedings and pronounce his verdict of guilt or innocence against the person whose alleged criminal acts and conduct were investigated, in a manner as if he were a court trying the accused.
g. In all proceedings, including the investigation, presentation and publication of the report, the investigative journalist’s newspaper should be guided by the paramount principle of criminal jurisprudence, that a person is innocent unless the offence alleged against him is proved beyond doubt by independent, reliable evidence.