Right to report: Special court allows journalists to report proceedings in 2008 Malegaon blast case

Mumbai: In a major victory for the media, a special court on Tuesday trashed an application filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) urging the court to conduct remaining sessions of the trial in the 2008 Malegaon blast case in-camera. This comes after 11 journalists from the city petitioned the special court seeking their "right to report". The special court also slammed NIA as well as the prime accused -- BJP motormouth Pragya Thakur and Lt Col SP Purohit -- for seeking a prohibition on the media on covering the trial.

Special Judge Vinod Padalkar said he would conduct a "transparent" trial in the case pertaining to the September 28, 2008 blasts, which killed over six persons and left around 100 injured. “The media’s role is very clear and they being the main pillar of democracy, are bent upon to publish the matter according to actual events that take place in the court,” the judge observed.

The judge also trashed the contention of Thakur and Purohit that some defamatory articles were published by certain newspapers against them. “Till date no legal action has been taken for incorrect publication either by Purohit or Thakur, both of whom are in favour of in-camera trial,” the court noted. “Had it been a fact that on account of incorrect publication, the person’s dignity, honour, is defamed, then a legal remedy was available to prosecute the person who published it. But not a single notice has been forwarded against media by the accused or NIA for calling upon explanation,” the court observed.

Earlier in July, NIA had urged the special court dealing with the case to conduct the entire trial in-camera, which means without the presence of media or any other person except the accused, their lawyers and the prosecution. Opposing this move, 11 journalists from various media organisations approached the court through noted advocates Rizwan Merchant and Gayatri Gokhale. Two of the 11 journalists were from the Free Press Journal – Neeta Kolhatkar and Narsi Benwal.

Special Judge Padalkar, while junking NIA’s plea for an in-camera trial, has also imposed certain restrictions on the media. The judge has asked the media persons to submit the true copies of their identity cards and also not to use any electronic device inside the courtroom. The other "restrictions" include not writing any editorial or personal opinion and also not having any special debates on the case till the trial concludes.

All these are a result of the ‘sudden’ application filed by the NIA on the ground that the matter is "religiously sensitive" and its reportage can create law and order situations. This preliminary contention of the NIA was trashed by the special court on its Tuesday’s orders, wherein it has noted that the agency has not submitted any information highlighting internal security threat and also communal disharmony instances, due to media reports of the case. He also noted that the NIA has not placed any material on record to show there were threats extended to witnesses or any accused in the case.

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Free Press Journal