Kerala High Court: While addressing the matter with regard to the media trial, Mohammed Nias C.P., J., expressed that, half-truths and misinformation cannot be the basis of publications or telecast.

Reports/telecast having the effect of prejudicing mankind against the parties and the court before the case is heard clearly interferes with the course of justice.

Petitioner was arrayed as the third accused alleged for the commission of offences under Sections 116, 118, 120-B and 506 read with Section 34 of the Penal Code, 1860, though a report was filed by the investigating officer changing Section 120B to Section 120 B (1) for adding offence under Section 302 IPC.

The de facto complainant was one of the investigating officers. Initially, there were only 7 accused in the case but later Mr Gopalakrishnan, the brother-in-law of the petitioner and a film actor was also arrayed as the 8th accused.

It was stated that the 6th respondent using his online news portal telecasted items regarding the cases in question from 25-12-2021 onwards fabricating more and more allegations against Mr Dileep and the petitioner about matters which were sub judice in the ongoing trial and the pending investigation.

It was alleged that the 6th respondent was resorting to sensationalism/publication/broadcast of fabricated allegations against the accused persons and their associates.

There was a specific allegation that respondents 3 to 5 were instrumental in leaking out the reports of the alleged investigation which led to the parallel trial by the media.

The first among the interim reliefs sought was to prohibit publication/broadcast of matters relating to the above said crime and the Sessions Case except the orders passed by the courts of law till the disposal of the Writ Petition and also to direct the 6th respondent to produce the contents of the entire telecast from 25-12-2021 till date in Report TV Channel and their Portal concerning the matter.

Analysis and Decision

High Court observed that the media interest or media debate, are all permitted in a democracy government by rule of law subject to one inviolable exception namely that the media cannot during the course of trial or investigation suggest/publish/telecast that A or B is guilty or that C or D is untrustworthy or an honest witness.

The above said are impermissible as the said suggestions of guilt of innocence or creditworthiness of witness etc.. are beyond the permissible rights of the media.

Media cannot usurp the jurisdiction of the courts which alone has the constitutional authority to decide the guilt/innocence of a person or decide on the content, quality or the width of any right available to any citizen/accused/suspect.                                                                          

Further, it was observed that,

Publication of leaks from the investigation agencies and to level allegations against individuals based on such leaks are not protected by the freedom of press under Article 19 (a) of the Constitution and it cannot be a defense that what was telecast was the allegation based on the prima facie findings of an investigating agency or worse on the basis of suspicions of Investigating agency.

Bench noted that, even the accused who is arrested during investigation and produced before a Magistrate under Section 167 (1) CrPC is entitled only to get a copy of the remand report as on the said basis his custody is sought. The Code only directs the investigating Officer to transmit to the Magistrate a copy of the entries in the case diary and when even the accused is not entitled to get the copy of any of the documents except remand report at that stage, it is difficult to comprehend as to how any other person/citizen/media can get copies of the details which even the accused is not entitled.

High Court observed that the during the course of the investigation, the investigating agency is not allowed to divulge the details of the investigation of any crime to the public at large on three counts:

  • Principle
  • Authority
  • Propriety

The Court suggested that the members of the electronic media should be bound by the spirit of guidelines issued under Norms of Journalist Conduct published by the Press Council of India, 2019.

The Bench held that the 6th respondent is to be prevented from telecasting/publishing the reports, therefore Court held that the present case warrants the extreme steps of passing directions against the 6th respondent to prevent such publications relating to the petitioner.

The matter is to be posted on 29-4-2022. [T.N. Suraj v. State of Kerala, WP (Crl.) No. 346 of 2022 (S), decided on 19-4-2022]

Advocates before the Court:

Sr. Advocate and Additional Director General of Prosecutions Sri. Gracious Kuriakose

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