Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and G.S. Kulkarni, J., while addressing the several questions on reporting by electronic media, expressed that:

“The duty of the press/media to have news items printed/telecast based on true and correct version relating to incidents worth reporting accurately and without any distortion/embellishment as well as without taking sides, cannot, therefore, be overemphasized.”

Genesis of the Several Public Interest Litigations

In the instant matter, several PIL’s cropped from the unnatural death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, 2020.

Insensitive and Disparaging Comments by News Channels

On June 20, 2020, a complaint was lodged against one of the prominent news channels before the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seeking action for insensitive and disparaging comments against the Indian Army and the coverage of the death of the actor, stated to be in defiance with the Programme Code.

Further, it was said that no action against the media channel was taken in regard to the complaint made.

Media Trials

Since the time of death of the actor, several prominent media channels have been literally conducting ‘media trials’ and ‘parallel investigation’ by conducting and broadcasting debates, rendering opinions, exposing the material witnesses, examining and cross-examining the witnesses, chasing the officials of CBI who were investigating the case.

Petitioners added that the above-stated telecast and broadcast are available in the public domain.

Sensationalization and Scandalize the death of the Actor

It is said that the prominent news channels in their attempt to sensationalize the issues have gone as far as displaying the CDR records which is a vital piece of evidence, thereby resulting in the several threat calls and messages sent to the alleged accused.

The petitioners say that to scandalize and sensationalize the death of the actor, irresponsible reporting to implicate one of the prominent ministers of the State of Maharashtra and have been making derogatory, false and distasteful remarks against several ministers.

Further, it was also pointed that the news anchors and reporters were examining and cross-examining all the proposed witnesses exposing the probable evidence to the public which could be examined only by the investigating agency or by the competent courts during the course of the trial.

Press Council of India

PCI had also issued a statement wherein it was stated that the coverage of the alleged suicide of the actor by many media outlets was in contravention of the norms of journalistic conduct.

Undermining the concept of free and fair trial

Petitioners submitted that the freedom of the media, especially of the TV channels, cannot be allowed to super stretch to a point where, by outpouring reprobate information, begins to clog and cloud the pellucid comprehension of ‘facts/news’ in the people’s minds and impinges upon free and fair investigation.

Fundamental Question

Whether the media under the garb of reporting news, can serve their own opinions as facts/news?

Petitioner observed that media works to create or induce opinions by narrating and reporting opinionated and tailored facts as news, which is beyond the scope, power and privilege accorded to the proverbial fourth pillar and a blatant abuse and misuse thereof.

Petitioners assert that media is plagued with the affliction of disproportionate reporting, which may be seen from the undue coverage given to inconsequential and mindless matters, unrelated to the greater good of the people of the country, as opposed to issues of national and international importance which the people are grappling with such as the COVID 19 crisis, mass joblessness, economic downfall, starvation, medical and healthcare structural problems, farmers issues, domestic violence, etc.

Adding to the above, petitioners stated that it is not the media’s domain to prove someone guilty a definitely no question of calling out someone guilty or innocent until the investigation and trial is complete.

Petitioners referred to the Supreme Court decision in Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2010) 6 SCC 1, wherein the Supreme Court has commented on the danger of serious risk of prejudice if the media exercises unrestricted and unregulated freedom, and stated that people at the helm of affairs should ensure that trial by media does not hamper fair investigation by the investigating agency and more importantly does not prejudice the right of defence of the accused in any manner whatsoever.

Petitioners refer to the decision of the Supreme Court in R.K. Anand v. Delhi High Court, reported in (2009) 8 SCC 106, where the Supreme Court observed that it would be a sad day for the court to employ the media for setting its own house in order and the media too would not relish the role of being the snoopers of the court.

Observation

Contention that media houses have crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’

Bench opined that the petitions filed aimed at redressal of genuine public harm or public injury and involve substantial public interest.

Hence, the Court overruled the objections of the media houses to the maintainability of the writ petitions.

Important Legal Questions before the Court

  1. What does the expression “administration of justice in any other manner” in Section 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 connote, and whether trial by media/pre-judgment while a police investigation is in progress could lead to interference with/obstruction to “administration of justice”, thereby constituting criminal contempt under the aforesaid section?
  2. Is it necessary to construe “judicial proceedings” in Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 to have commenced with the registration of an FIR? Also, is it at all necessary to read Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 in the manner the petitioner in PIL (St.) 2339 of 2020 urges us to read?
  3. Whether media trial in respect of matters pending investigation of a criminal complaint, fall within the restrictions as contained in the Programme Code as postulated under Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the rules framed thereunder?
  4. Whether the regime of self-regulation adopted by the news channels would have any sanctity within the statutory framework?
  5. While emphasizing on the need to strike the right balance between freedom of speech and expression and fair investigation/right to fair trial, to what extent, if at all, should press/media reporting be regulated if the same interferes with or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, “administration of justice”?

Further, the Court also proposes to address the following incidental questions:

  1. Are the guidelines for reporting cases of deaths by suicide sufficient? If insufficient, should further guidelines be laid down for reporting cases of deaths by suicide?
  2. Has the media coverage complained of in these writ petitions interfered with/obstructed and/or tends to interfere with/obstruct “administration of justice”, and thus amounts to criminal contempt within the meaning of section 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971? and whether criticism of Mumbai Police by the electronic media is fair?
  3. Is the accusation that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, being the Nodal Ministry, has abdicated its statutory functions [under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act and the rules framed thereunder read with the Policy Guidelines of 2011 and the license executed with the broadcaster] of deciding complaints received in respect of offending programmes, by forwarding the same to private bodies like the News Broadcasting Authority (NBA) and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), justified?
  4. Should an order be made, on facts and in the circumstances, postponing reporting of events by the media in respect of investigation by the CBI into the FIR registered by it pursuant to the complaint of the actor’s father? Also, is it necessary for the Court to suggest measures for regulating media coverage of incidents such as the one under consideration to address the concerns expressed in these writ petitions?

Analysis

  • Investigative Journalism

The controversy in the instant matter raises questions of contemporary importance touching upon the right of the press/media to express views freely, the right of the deceased to be treated with respect and dignity after death, the need to ensure investigation of the crime to proceed on the right track without being unduly prejudiced by media reports based on “investigative journalism”, and the right of the accused to a free and fair trial as well as the right to not be prejudged by the media.

“Right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is not merely a right of speech and expression but a right to freedom of speech and expression.”

 In Supreme Court’s decision of Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641 the need to protect the ‘Freedom of Press’ was highlighted, which is the heart of social and political intercourse.

Further, the Court referred to in LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah (Prof.), (1992) 3 SCC 637, wherein the flavour of the right to freedom of free speech and expression was brought out by the Supreme Court.

 “What resonates in our ears now is whether the right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) is the most abused right in recent times?”

 To the above stated, Court answered in negative and expressed that “it is a reminder of what has at times been the unsavoury past of the press/media in India crossing the proverbial ‘Lakshman Rekha’.”

Rule of Law

There can be no two opinions that in a society governed by the rule of law, no price is too high to maintain the purity of administration of justice; and, as a Constitutional court, we have the power, nay the duty, to protect not only the Fundamental Rights of the citizens as well as the press/media in the judicious exercise of our jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution but also to secure that the stream of administration of justice flows unsullied and unpolluted, uninfluenced by extraneous considerations.

 Supreme Court’s decision in Harijai Singh, In Re., (1996) 6 SCC 466 held that:

“10. But it has to be remembered that this freedom of press is not absolute, unlimited and unfettered at all times and in all circumstances as giving unrestricted freedom of speech and expression would amount to an uncontrolled licence. If it were wholly free even from reasonable restraints it would lead to disorder and anarchy. The freedom is not to be misunderstood as to be a press free to disregard its duty to be responsible. In fact, the element of responsibility must be present in the conscience of the journalists.”

PCI Guidelines

Electronic media should also be guided by the contents of the guidelines of the PCI on reporting of death cases by suicide for two reasons: first, the said guidelines have a statutory flavour and similar such binding guidelines on reporting cases of death by suicide are non-existent for the electronic media; and secondly, the absence of such guidelines could lead to the dignity of the dead being breached with impunity.

The death of the actor was followed by such crude, indecent and distasteful news reporting by a few of the TV channels that we do not consider it worthy of being referred to here and be a part of this judgment.

Court’s Ruling

“No report/discussion/debate/ interview should be presented by the press/media which could harm the interests of the accused being investigated or a witness in the case or any such person who may be relevant for any investigation, with a view to satiate the thirst of stealing a march over competitors in the field of reporting.”

High Court opined that the press/media ought to avoid/regulate certain reports/discussions/debates/interviews in respect of and/or touching upon any on-going inquiry/investigation into a criminal offence.

Hence, Bench directed the press/ media to exercise restraint and refrain from printing/displaying any news item and/or initiating any discussion/debate/interview of nature, as indicated hereunder:

  1. In relation to death by suicide, depicting the deceased as one having a weak character or intruding in any manner on the privacy of the deceased;
  2. That causes prejudice to an ongoing inquiry/investigation by:

(i)  Referring to the character of the accused/victim and creating an atmosphere of prejudice for both;

(ii)  Holding interviews with the victim, the witnesses and/or any of their family members and displaying it on screen;

(iii)  Analyzing versions of witnesses, whose evidence could be vital at the stage of trial;

(iv)  Publishing a confession allegedly made to a police officer by an accused and trying to make the public believe that the same is a piece of evidence which is admissible before a Court and there is no reason for the Court not to act upon it, without letting the public know the nitty-gritty of the Evidence Act, 1872;

(v)  Printing photographs of an accused and thereby facilitating his identification;

(vi)  Criticizing the investigative agency based on half-baked information without proper research;

(vii)  Pronouncing on the merits of the case, including pre-judging the guilt or innocence qua an accused or an individual not yet wanted in a case, as the case may be;

(viii)  Recreating/reconstructing a crime scene and depicting how the accused committed the crime;

(ix)  Predicting the proposed/future course of action including steps that ought to be taken in a particular direction to complete the investigation; and

(x)  Leaking sensitive and confidential information from materials collected by the investigating agency;

  1. Acting in any manner so as to violate the provisions of the Programme Code as prescribed under section 5 of the CTVN Act read with rule 6 of the CTVN Rules and thereby inviting contempt of court; and
  2. Indulging in character assassination of any individual and thereby mar his reputation.

Role of Media Houses

Bench advised media houses to inform, guide and advise the guest speakers to refrain from making public utterances which are likely to interfere with and/or obstruct the administration of justice and thereby attract contempt.

The role of the anchor, in such cases, is also important. It is for him/her to apply his/her mind and avoid the programme from drifting beyond the permissible limits. Muting the speaker if he flies off or shows the tendency of flying off at a tangent could be one of several ways to avoid embarrassment as well as contempt.

Investigative Agencies

Court also reminded the investigative agencies that they are entitled to maintain secrecy in the course of the investigation and are under no obligation to divulge materials thus collected.

Further, the Court added that:

If indeed there is leakage or disclosure of materials, which has the potential of stifling a proper investigation, it could pave the way for such information being laid before the competent court having powers to punish for cri6minal contempt under Section 2(c) of the CoC Act and in an appropriate case, for being dealt with in accordance with law.

Appointment of an Officer as a Link between the Investigator and Media Houses

Agreeing with Mr Datar’s suggestion Court observed that:

Mumbai Police, as well as the other investigating agencies, may consider the desirability of appointing an officer who could be the link between the investigator and the media houses for holding periodic briefings in sensitive cases or incidents that are likely to affect the public at large and to provide credible information to the extent such officer considers fit and proper to disclose and answer queries as received from the journalists/reporters but he must, at all times, take care to ensure that secret and confidential information/material collected during the investigation, the disclosure whereof could affect the administration of justice, is not divulged.

In case an officer as stated above would be appointed, he would be expected to bear in mind the Supreme Court’s decision in Rajendran Chingaraveluv. R.K. Mishra, (2010) 1 SCC 457.

“Every journalist/reporter has an overriding duty to the society of educating the masses with fair, accurate, trustworthy and responsible reports relating to reportable events/incidents and above all to the standards of his/her profession. Thus, the temptation to sensationalize should be resisted.”

Therefore, in light of the above discussions, the Court disposed of the PIL’s filed.[Nilesh Navalakha v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 56, decided on 18-01-2021]


Advocates for the Parties:

Mr. Devadatt Kamat, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Rajesh Inamdar with Mr.Shashwat Anand, Mr. Pankaj Kandhari, Ms. Smita Pandey, Mr.Amit Pai, Mr. Vishal Jagwani, Kevin Gala, Siddharth Naik, Pinky Chainani, Mr. Ankur Azad, Mr. Sarveshwari Prasad, Mr. Rahat Bansal, Mr. Faiz Ahmad. i/b Mr. Pankaj Kandhari for Petitioners.

Mr. Anil Singh, Additional Solicitor General a/w Mr. Sandesh Patil, Mr.Aditya Thakkar, Mr.Amogh Singh, Ms. Apurva Gute, Mr. Chintan, Mr. Mayur Prashant Rane, Mr. Sumedh Sahakari, Mr. D. P. Singh, Ms.Reshma Ravapati, Mr. Saurabh Prabhulkar and Medvita Trivedi for respondent Nos.1, 4, 12 and 13.

Mr. Arvind Datar, Senior Advocate i/by Mr. Bharat Manghani for respondent 3 (NBA)

Mr. P. P. Kakade, Govt. Pleader with Mrs. R. A. Salunkhe, AGP for respondent 5 -State.

Mr. Rajeev Pandey with Mr. Madhur Rai i/by PRS Legal for respondent No.6(The India Today Group).

Mr. Kunal Tandon a/w Ms. Prachi Pandya i/by Corporate Attorneys for respondent No.7 (Times Now).

Ms. Malvika Trivdei a/w Mr. Saket Shukla, Mr. Vasanth Rajshekharan, Mr. Mrinal Ojha, Mr. Debashri Datta, Mr.Rajat Pradhan, Ms. Madhavi Joshi and Mr. Siddhant Kumar i/by Phoenix Legal for respondent 8 (Republic TV).

Mr. Angad Dugal, Mr. Govind Singh Grewal, Shiva Kumar, Tanya Vershney, Raj Surana a/w Rishi Murarka for respondent 9 (NDTV Ltd.).

None for respondent  10 (News 18).

Mr. Ankit Lohiya a/w Mr. Hetal Thakore, Mr. Kunal Parekh, Ms. Bhavika Tiwari i/by Dua Associates AOR Mumbai for respondent 11 (Zee News).

Ms. Hetal Jobhanputra for respondent No. 14 (ABP News).

Mr. Jayant Mehta a/w Mr. Alankar Kirpekar a/w Mr. Tejveer Bhatia, Mr. Rohan Swarop, Mr. Shekhar Bhagat i/by MAG Legal for respondent 15 (India TV).

Mr. Siddhesh Bhole, Mr. Rishabh Dhanuka i/by Alba Law Offices for respondent No. 16 (News Nation).

Mr. Siddharth Bhatnagar, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Pralhad Paranjape for respondent No. 17 (NBF).

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where withing a couple of days of the alleged dowry death of a doctor in Agra, a suicide note was leaked to the newspapers of the city, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ has said that selective disclosures to the media affect the rights of the accused in some cases and the rights of victims families in others.

“The media does have a legitimate stake in fair reporting. But events such as what has happened in this case show how the selective divulging of information, including the disclosure of material which may eventually form a crucial part of the evidentiary record at the criminal trial, can be used to derail the administration of criminal justice.”

Background

The deceased, a doctor by profession, married the accused, also a doctor, in 2014. Over Rs.1.50 crores were spent by the deceased’s father for conducting the marriage. It was alleged that even thereafter, deceased’s husband, his parents, brother-in-law and sister-in-law misbehaved with the deceased on account of dowry. Deceased’s father alleges to have paid money on several occasions by cheque to her in-laws. Also, she was severely assaulted in 2017. In the meantime, the deceased suffered miscarriages on two occasions and ultimately, adopted a daughter. The FIR states,

“… dowry greedy people killed Dipti in [xxx] for non-receipt of dowry and non-fulfilment of the demands, and admitted Dipti in their hospital itself in the almost dead condition, in order to save themselves, but she was not allowed any treatment with the intention of killing her. In order to save the life of Dipti, the applicant took her away to the Sarvodaya hospital Faridabad for treatment, at the earlies.” (sic)

While the Sessions Judge denied anticipatory bail on 21 August 2020, the single judge of Allahabad High Court held that

(a) the FIR prima facie appears to be engineered to implicate the applicants;

(b) there is no corelation in between the various allegations leveled in the FIR; and

(c) the allegations “are general in nature” with no specific role being assigned to the accused.

Analysis

On FIR being “engineered” to implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family

Finding the judgment of the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad unsustainable, the Court held that the FIR contained a recital of allegations bearing on the role of the accused in demanding dowry, of the prior incidents of assault and the payment of moneys by cheque to the in-laws of the deceased. It aslo referred to the telephone calls which were received both from the father-in-law of the deceased on the morning of 3 August 2020 and from the deceased on two occasions on the same day- a few hours before her body was found.

“The grant of anticipatory bail in such a serious offence would operate to obstruct the investigation. The FIR by a father who has suffered the death of his daughter in these circumstances cannot be regarded as “engineered” to falsely implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family.”

On publicity of the alleged suicide by media

“This is not fair to the accused because it pulls the rug below the presumption of innocence. It is not fair to the victims of crime, if they have survived the crime, and where they have not, to their families.”

The investigating officer has a duty to investigate when information about the commission of a cognizable offence is brought to their attention. Unfortunately, this role is being compromised by the manner in which selective leaks take place in the public realm. Neither the victims nor their families have a platform to answer the publication of lurid details about their lives and circumstances.

“The daughter of the appellant had died in mysterious circumstances. The family had completed the last rites. To expect that they should be scouring the pages of the print and electronic media before reporting the crime is a mockery of the human condition.”

Further, the apprehension of the appellant that the deceased’s husband and his family have a prominent social status in Agra and may have used their position in society to thwart a proper investigation cannot be regarded to be unjustified.

On transfer of investigation to CBI

“The investigation by the UP Police in the present case leaves much to be desired.”

The Court said that it would be a travesty if it were to ignore the glaring deficiencies in the investigation conducted so far. Further,

“The status of the accused as propertied and wealthy persons of influence in Agra and the conduct of the investigation thus far diminishes this Court’s faith in directing a further investigation by the same authorities. The cause of justice would not be served if the Court were to confine the scope of its examination to the wisdom of granting anticipatory bail and ignore the possibility of a trial being concluded on the basis of a deficient investigation at best or a biased one at worst.”

Hence, it is necessary to entrust a further investigation of the case to the CBI in exercise of the powers of this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution.

Directions

(i) The order passed by the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad allowing the applications for anticipatory bail by the respondents-accused set aside and the bail granted to them stands cancelled; and

(ii) The CBI is directed to conduct a further investigation in the matter.

[Dr. Naresh Kumar Mangla v. Anita Agarwal,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 1031, decided on 17.12.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of A.A. Sayed and Surendra P. Tavade, JJ. addressed a Public Interest Litigation filed by former IPS officers with regard to the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

Media Trial

Present PIL was filed by former IPS Officers, raising concerns with regard to media coverage pertaining to the unnatural death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, which the petitioner’s states may tantamount to media trial.

Petitioners Counsel brought the Court’s attention to the “Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards” issued by respondent 3 — News Broadcasting Association which inter alia speaks of ‘principles of self-regulation’, impartially, objectivity, neutrality and privacy.

Further, the media advisory dated 28-08-2020 of the respondent 2 — Press Council of India has also been observed.

Bench on perusal of the above urged and expected the respondents to exercise restrain in the media reporting pertaining to the investigation of the unnatural death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput which would in any manner hamper or prejudice the ongoing investigation which is being carried out by the respondent 4 – CBI after imprimatur of the Supreme Court vide judgment and order dated 19-08-2020.

Court directed respondent 4 — CBI along with other respondents to file and affidavit in reply.

Matter to be listed on 10-09-2020.[Nilesh Navlakha v. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 895, decided on 03-09-2020]


Read More:

Sushant Singh Rajput death case| SC dismisses Law student’s petition seeking CBI probe

Sushant Singh Rajput death case| SC asks Mumbai Police to submit status of investigation so far; says truth must come out

Sushant Singh Rajput death | Bom HC defers hearing till 21st August, 2020 on plea seeking CBI investigation

Sushant Singh Rajput Death case| SC reserves verdict in Rhea Chakraborty’s plea seeking transfer of case from Patna to Mumbai

Bom HC | Citing Supreme Court’s verdict on transfer of investigation into unnatural death of Sushant Singh Rajput to CBI, Court declines to entertain PILs

Sushant Singh Rajput| Here’s why SC ordered CBI probe into the actor’s death [DETAILED REPORT]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: A Division Bench of M. Sathyanarayanan and P. Rajamanickam, JJ., while addressing the matter of Custodial Death of “Jayaraj & Bennicks” appealed the members of media to not conduct “Media Trial” as that may affect the prosecution and accused both.

Petition was filed to direct respondent 1 to submit a report on the death of Bennicks and Jayaraj, accused in Sathankulam and or pass any other order/direction.

No Media Trial

Bench appealed to members of the Print, Visual and Social Media not to misinterpret the proceedings or observations made during the course of hearing with the further appeal, not to conduct media trial as it may affect both the prosecution as well as the accused.

Additional Advocate General for the State submitted that pursuant to the directions of this Court, Anil Kumar, Deputy Superintendent of police, CBCID had taken over the investigation and effected arrest of the following under Sections 302, 342 and 201 IPC:

  • Raghu Ganesh, Sub Inspector of Police
  • Balakrishnan, Sub Inspector of Police
  • Murugan, Head Constable
  • Muthurajan, Gr-I Police Constable
  • Sridhar, Inspector of Police/Station House Officer, Sathankulam Police Station
  • Pauldurai, Special Sub Inspector of Police
  • Samidurai, Head Constable
  • Vail Muthu, Gr-I Police Constable
  • Chelladurai, Gr-I Police Constable
  • Thomas Fransous, Gr-I Police Constable and steps have already been taken to get their police custody before the expiry of initial period of remand of 15 days.

Assistant Solicitor General of India, V. Kathirvelu submitted that CBI had registered two separate cases under Sections 176 (1-a)(i) CrPC and Additional Superintendent of Police, CBI V.K. Shukla had been nominated as investigating officer.

Bench passed the following orders pertaining to the present petition:

CBCID shall filed a status report as to the investigation carried out so far in a sealed cover before this Court on the next date of hearing.

CBI while investigating the cases registered shall take into account, the materials collected by CBCID so far, for the purpose of carrying out the effective and quality investigation and if it feels that custodial interrogation of any of the accused is necessary, it may take appropriate steps.

Investigating Agency either CBCID or CBI, may take immediate step to file applications for getting police custody of the arrested persons, within fifteen days of remand before the jurisdictional Magistrate as contemplated under Section 167 CrPC.

Matter to be listed on 28-07-2020. [Registrar (Judicial) v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1332 , decided on 9-07-2020]


Read More:

TN Custodial Deaths | Madras HC directs preservation of clue materials; Issues directions on premise that case be transferred to CBI

TN Custodial Deaths | Madras HC passes slew of directions for conducting of enquiry by the Judicial Magistrate in the brutal killing of father-son duo

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Pakistan: A Three-Judge Bench comprising of Mian Saqib Nisar, HCJ and Umar Ata Bandial and Ijaz Ul Ahsan, JJ. issued directives to regulate media discussions in sub judice matters.

The present suo motu proceedings were initiated by the Supreme Court against one Arshad Sharif –  the anchor of show ‘Power Play’ aired on ARY News channel – wherein the panelists’ discussion pertained to inquiry of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against former President Asif Ali Zardari. The court issued a notice to Arshad Sharif seeking his explanation for the content of his show, whereupon he tendered an unconditional apology to the court.

Notice was also issued to the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) asking as to whether there existed any code of professional ethics for the media, whether the same was being followed and if not, what kind of action should be initiated against the delinquents. PBA submitted that a statutory code of conduct namely, Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015 did exist; Clause 4(3) whereof prohibited airing of subjective commentary on sub-judice matters by media licensees. However, despite the same, sub-judice matters were being openly discussed in talk shows.

The Court observed that there was a need to strike balance between freedom of speech and right to fair trial. It noted the similarity between Indian law and Pakistan law regarding protection of the right to fair trial and protection from prejudicial comments with regards to sub judice matters as in both the countries, the freedom of speech was subject to reasonable restrictions. The judgment in Sahara India Real Estate Corpn. Ltd. v SEBI, (2012) 10 SCC 603 holding that excessive prejudicial publicity leading to usurpation of functions of the Court interferes with legal proceedings by encroaching upon the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise, was also considered by the Court.

In view of the above, the Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ensure that the parameters laid down in the Code of Conduct are adhered to in letter and spirit and no violations thereof be tolerated. [Discussion in TV Talk Show with regard to a Sub-Judice Matter, In re,2018 SCC OnLine Pak SC 3, decided on 12-09-2018]