Observing that reportage must not hamper investigations, the Bombay High Court on Thursday ordered the news media outlets, especially the electronic media, to exercise 'self-restraint' and avoid disseminating any information in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case that could adversely affect the probe in the matter.A bench of Justices Amjad Sayed and Surendra Tavade also issued notices to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and a few news channels, asking them to file their say in the matter so that a comprehensive order could be passed later.
"We hope and trust that the media will not publish or report anything that could hamper the probe in the matter. We urge the media to exercise self-restraint while giving out news pertaining to the case in hand," Justice Sayed said in his short order.
"Let the CBI and the channels appear before us and file their say in the matter,"Justice Sayed added.
The bench was seized with a clutch of petitions, including the one filed by eight former top cops of the city urging the court to restrain the media from running its 'false' campaign against Mumbai Police and maligning its image.
Appearing for the former IPS officers, senior counsel Milind Sathe told the bench that the media has been running a parallel trial in the case. "A few channels have virtually taken over the probe in this case. They are investigating the case and are accessing vital evidence in the matter. The news channels are also examining and cross-examining important witnesses in the probe," Sathe submitted.
The senior advocate further told the bench that the media seemed to have forgotten its own code of ethics.
"Fair and neutral reporting are basic ethics in journalism. But these two things are absent in the entire coverage which has been going on for the last 75 days in the country," Sathe argued, referring to various news items broadcast by Times Now and Aaj Tak news channels.
"While some channels have shown pictures of Sushant's body, a few have put up for public display probably his last chats with his girlfriend. These are all vital evidence but how did the media get access to these documents?" the counsel argued.
"Some news channels labelled Mumbai Police as co-conspirators in the crime and this is clearly defamatory," Sathe said.
Further referring to the Supreme Court judgment transferring the probe from Mumbai Police to the CBI, Sathe argued that news channels have misconstrued the observations of the top court and have used the judgment to malign Mumbai Police.
"In fact, the SC has praised Mumbai Police for its job. It has said that the city police has done its job and that it could have completed the probe soon. But these channels have misused the order only to run a false campaign against the city police force," Sathe pointed out, further clarifying that his clients (IPS officers), have nothing to do with who probes the case and who is the accused or victim.
Another petitioner, told the judges that none of them were against free speech, "but when this freedom is being used to take over the probe virtually, then it must not be allowed. It's time the media is told that no right is absolute in our country and every right has certain reasonable restrictions," the counsel argued.