Sushant Rajput case: Plea in Bombay HC says ‘media trials’could derail probe, seeks directions to TV channels

‘Insinuations have been made about the involvement of prominent politicians and officials, while the accused named in the FIR has already been convicted by news channels’, the plea says

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput

NH Web Desk

Three activists have moved the Bombay High Court seeking directions to prominent television networks to restrict reportage that could hamper the investigation into the demise of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The news channels impleaded in the petition include Times Now, Republic TV, Zee News, NDTV, News 18, and India Today, legal news website has reported.

"... From 14.06.2020 to date several prominent media channels have been literally conducting ‘media trials’/parallel proceedings & investigation by conducting and broadcasting, holding debates, rendering opinion, exposing the material witnesses, examining and cross-examining the witnesses and reporting and chasing the officials of CBI who are investigating the case ...," the plea says.

Petitioning the Court to issue directions to 'postpone' coverage that would tantamount to a parallel investigation or a media trial, the plea states that the present reporting related to the case goes against the Supreme Court ruling in Sahara India Real Estate Corpn. Ltd. v. SEBI. The plea states, "....the medial trial in the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput's case is posing real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice, much less, the criminal justice system, or to the fairness of trial..."

The petitioners describe themselves as law abiding citizens alarmed at the "falling standards of journalism and propaganda news".

The petition, terming the nature of reporting as sensationalisation, also alleges that this adversely impacts the ongoing Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the Sushant Singh Rajput case. According to the petitioners, news channels have gone so far as to display Call Detail Records and personal contact details of the accused.

Further, it is stated that insinuations have been made about the involvement of prominent politicians and officials, while the accused named in the FIR has already been convicted by news channels.

Thus, the petition seeks that the tenets of the Programme Code laid down in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the 1994 Rules is followed in both letter and spirit.

Additionally, it is prayed that that the Centre, the Press Council of India, and the News Broadcasters Association issue instructions to the media to adhere to the Act and Rules, and take necessary stringent action against those that violate journalistic ethics by engaging in media trial.

It is emphasized that the petitioners do not seek to impinge upon the freedom of the press/media. The plea states, "The instant petition in no manner seeks to impinge or curtail the freedom of the press/media, but for the sake of administration of justice only seeks a direction to the Respondents to toe the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and ensure that no media trial is undertaken which has the impact of prejudicing the independent investigation being undertaken by the CBI."

The restriction on a fair trial would serve to neutralise/balance reportage, it is submitted.

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