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Republic, Times Now reports on SSR death ‘contemptuous’: Bombay HC

Court held that the trial by media interferes with criminal investigation by police.

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NEW DELHI: The Bombay high court has observed that some of the reporting done by Republic TV and Times Now against the Mumbai police in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case was “prima facie contemptuous" in nature, but refrained from passing any orders on it. 

A bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice DL Kulkarni were delivering their judgement in the tranche of public interest litigation (PIL) petitions filed against media trial that ensued after the actor died by suicide in June last year. 

The court held that trial by media interferes with the criminal investigation by police and issued directions to the media to follow while reporting on suicide cases and deaths. It mentioned that electronic media must adhere to the PCI guidelines on reporting. 

It made several other observations including:-

·         Media trial runs counter to the program code framed under the Cable TV Act.

·         'Press/media ought to avoid discussions, debates relating to criminal investigation and should confine only to informative reports in such matters in public interest'.

·         Media should observe restraint in discussions about ongoing investigation so as to prejudice the rights of the accused and witness'.

·         Publishing a confession alleged to have been made by an accused as if it is an admissible evidence without letting the public know about its inadmissibility should be avoided.

·         While reporting suicide, to suggest that the person was of weak character, should be avoided.

·         Reconstructing of crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information should be avoided.

·         Investigative agencies are entitled to keep secrecy about the ongoing investigation and they are under no obligation to divulge information.

The bench also pointed that the findings and observations in the judgment are not a reflection on the pending investigations and the concerned criminal court should decide the issues uninfluenced by the observations.

The court added that it will be adopting the suggestion of senior advocate Arvind Datar regarding the appointing of a public information officer by the police to give authentic information about investigations.

The bench had reserved its judgement in the matters on 6 November 2020, after being approached by several PILs in the matter asking directions to prominent television networks to restrict reportage that could hamper the investigation into the demise of Rajput; protest over some sections of the media maligning the image of the Mumbai police through media trial; re-interpretation of contempt law so that publications made from the stage of filing an FIR in criminal cases may be subject to contempt liability; framing guidelines to regulate the print or broadcast media without curtailing the freedom of the press.

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