The Delhi High Court issued an order directing media houses to strictly adhere to the Programme Code in the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 and also the Code of Ethics and broadcasting Standards. It further urged the editorial teams to ensure that the content disseminated is from a verified source. However, the question of removal of content is yet to be decided upon.
The matter came before the court when environment activist Disha Ravi filed a petition against Delhi Police for leaking her personal chats and the media houses for spreading those chats. She alleged that the police had leaked such content to the media, who were disseminating them and also alleging that she was associated with some illegal groups. She requested the court to have all that content removed from public domain, direct the police not to disseminate anything, ask media houses to adhere to the program code and ensure that Delhi police does not share the investigation files. The petitioner also claimed to have issued various cease and desist notices. While the petitioner claimed a violation of her right to privacy, the respondents contended that since she is not denying the authenticity of the messages, she cannot claim a violation. They further argued that the right to privacy can be restricted by an ‘overwhelming’ public interest. The petitioner stressed upon the difference between ‘public records’ and ‘records in the public domain’, claiming that her WhatsApp texts being available in public domain do not make them public records.
While the final decree is yet to be pronounced, Justice Pratibha M. Singh issued the following interim directions:
“(i) The Delhi Police will strictly abide by the affidavit dated 18th February, 2021, which has been filed today as also the Office Memorandum dated 1st April, 2010, which is, admittedly, still in operation. The Delhi Police or other investigation authorities would, however, be, in terms of the said OM, entitled to conduct their briefings in accordance with law so long as no rights of the Petitioner are violated.
(ii) Media houses shall also ensure that the telecast/broadcast by them is from verified/authenticated sources, though the sources need not be revealed. All disseminated content shall be in strict adherence to the ‘Programme Code’ as contained in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994 as also the Code of Ethics &Broadcasting Standards prescribed by the News Broadcasters Association.
(iii)The editorial teams of the respective channels shall ensure that only such broadcasts and telecasts are communicated and disseminated, which have verified data and verified content. The channel editors shall ensure that the channels exerciseproper editorial control so that the Petitioner’s investigation isnot hampered, in any manner.
(iv)If the charge-sheet is filed in the meantime and the same is made public, once the investigation reaches some conclusion,dissemination of the contents of the charge-sheet would not be interdicted in any manner.
(v)Since there is an allegation that persons who sympathise with the Petitioner’s cause are attempting to malign the police andinvestigation authorities, Mr. Akhil Sibal, ld. Senior Counsel while denying the allegation, assures that the Petitioner or any other person directly associated with her do not intend toindulgeinanykindofmaligningof the policeortheinvestigating authorities. This assurance is accepted by theCourt.
(vi) The question of removal of content, which is already in public domain shall be considered with the hearing of the stayapplication at a later stage.”