"You cannot be an investigator, prosecutor, a judge and then pronounce a verdict. Then why are we here?" remarked the Bombay high court on Wednesday while pulling up Republic TV channel over its "insensitive" coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death. The court also asked the channel to "stay in its limits".
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni said, "You (Republic TV) need to know that there are certain boundaries. You need to stay in your boundaries and not cross over."
The observation was made in response to the submissions of advocate Malvika Trivedi, appearing for Republic TV news channel.
In her submissions, Trivedi argued that the media cannot be regulated by the government as there were sufficient guidelines put in place by private bodies such as the National Broadcasters Standard Association (NBSA) and the National Broadcasters Federation (NBF).
"Even the Supreme Court has several times held, the government must be thick-skinned and open to criticism by the media. In our reportage, we have been reporting only the facts," Trivedi said.
"It must be noted that there were certain deficiencies in the probe by Mumbai Police. And thus, the public demanded justice, even the deceased (Sushant's) family wanted justice. Thus, we just resorted to investigative journalism," Trivedi argued.
Interrupting the submissions, CJ Datta said, "Does investigative journalism mean that you (media) seek public opinion on who must be arrested? How can the media tell the probe agency to arrest someone in a case and run a campaign such as #ArrestRheaNow. Is this part of investigative journalism?"
"In a case where it is yet to be established whether the death was a suicide or a homicide, a news channel cannot claim it was a murder. This isn't investigative journalism. You become the investigator, prosecutor, judge and even pass verdicts. Then why are we all here? You just cannot cross your limits," CJ Datta remarked.
The bench further said that it wasn't against investigative journalism but only wanted regulation. "We are not suggesting even for a minute that the media's throat must be throttled. We are only dealing with whether the standard code of ethics are being followed or not," CJ Datta clarified.
Meanwhile, referring to various news items featured on the Republic channel following Sushant's death, the bench noted that most of the content was in violation of the norms laid down to report suicide cases.
"There are certain basic ethics in journalism, especially in reporting suicide cases. The guidelines state that the headlines must not be sensational. But your news items are in contravention," Justice Kulkarni pointed out.
Further, CJ Datta said that the channel did not show any semblance of consideration, even for the deceased. "Forget the accused or witnesses, you didn't spare even the deceased. This is unfortunate," the chief justice opined.
The judges further heard the brief submissions by Times Now, Aaj Tak, India Today and Zee News, all of whom emphasised self-regulation of content by news channels and were against state regulation.