Observing that there is a need for the media to draw a 'lakshman rekha', the Bombay high court on Thursday ordered the Union Government to file an affidavit in response to a clutch of petitions seeking regulation of the media to ensure it does not resort to parallel trials while covering criminal cases. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni also sought to know if it was the duty of the media to tell an investigation agency who should be arrested or convicted.
"Is it the duty of the media to tell the probe agency whom it should arrest or convict? Isn't it the job of an investigating officer to apply his mind and refer to the provisions of the law before making any arrests?" CJ Datta questioned.
The query was in response to the objection raised by advocate Malvika Trivedi, who appeared for Republic TV news channel.
Trivedi vehemently opposed the submissions of senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, who represented the retired IPS officers of Maharashtra, seeking regulation of the media and highlighting the propaganda of a section of electronic media to malign the reputation of Mumbai Police while covering the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
"The media cannot be gagged. Wasn't the media's role important in the recent Hathras case?" Trivedi argued.
Interrupting her submissions, CJ Datta clarified that Chinoy did not seek any gag order against any of the news channels.
"Understand what is he (Chinoy) saying. He isn't asking us to gag the media. He has just argued that the media shouldn't intervene in ongoing investigations in a given case. He only says that the media has no right to declare someone guilty or accused, before an agency completes its probe," CJ Datta explained.
As far as Chinoy is concerned, in his brief submissions, he argued that there needed to be a line that the media ought not to cross.
"The media cannot prejudge someone's guilt in a given case. It cannot ask the probe agency to declare someone guilty even before the probe. A parallel media trial makes an adverse impact on the entire probe itself," Chinoy submitted.
Further, referring to 'campaigns' run by certain news channels, Chinoy pointed out, "The media cannot run a campaign to pressurise the probe agency to arrest someone. For instance, Times Now ran a campaign with #IndiaForRheaArrest etc. Such campaigns make a huge impact on a person's life."
Having heard the submission, CJ Datta remarked, "This means there is a need to draw a 'Lakshman rekha' for the media."
Meanwhile, the judges were informed that the News Broadcasters Standard Authority (NBSA) has imposed fines on certain news channels for their "insensitive" coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
"The channels have also been ordered to tender an apology," the NBSA's counsel Nisha Bhambani pointed out.
At this, CJ Datta said, "But would a mere apology be enough?"
The bench was further informed by another lawyer that not all TV news channels are members of NBSA and some also belong to the News Broadcasters Federation.
The judges have adjourned the hearing till Monday.