In what could spell serious trouble for the TV news media, the Bombay High Court on Monday sought to know if a statutory body could be brought in to regulate the electronic media's content. The court has ordered the Union government to give its stand on this issue.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, while noting the electronic media's "coverage" of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, also questioned the "free hand" enjoyed by TV channels in broadcasting content.
The judges had before them a clutch of petitions, including one filed by nine retired IPS officers, highlighting the media trial in Sushant's death case. The pleas sought regulation of media content, especially while covering criminal cases.
When the matter was taken up for hearing on Monday, senior counsel Devdatta Kamat, appearing for one of the petitioners, argued that the Cable TV Act contained statutory provisions and empowered the Union government to enforce these laws.
"But nothing of this sort is happening. The Union government, instead of implementing the statutory laws, has been outsourcing its responsibility to private bodies. The government must be responsible, especially where media coverage is concerned," Kamat argued.
According to Kamat, the government, during Sushant's coverage, forwarded all the complaints to News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF).
"But the other problem is, there have been news channels, which have refused to abide by orders of such private bodies citing that they aren't members of either the NBA or NBF. The government must answer if such outsourcing of responsibilities is permissible," Kamat argued.
Arguing further, Kamat told the bench that the media trial ex facie violates the fundamental right to privacy of an accused and also amounts to interference in administration of justice.
Having heard the contention, CJ Datta asked, "Is there any statutory mechanism for TV media? Why should it enjoy a free hand?"
"Just like there is press council of India for the print media, why isn't the government thinking of a statutory council for TV news media?" CJ Datta further questioned.
At this, additional solicitor general Anil Singh, who is representing the Union government, replied that there isn't any "open hand as such."
"It would be incorrect to say that the TV media is enjoying a free hand. In fact, the government has been acting on the complaints it receives. And, ultimately, the press has its freedom," Singh submitted.
Interrupting the ASG, the chief justice, while referring to the Union's affidavit filed in the last hearing, said, "It is your very stand that you have forwarded several complaints to NBA or NBF.’’ The judges, will now hear the matter next on Wednesday.