The Bombay High Court on Monday held that media trials during criminal investigation can obstruct the administration of justice and is in violation of programme code under the Cable Television Network Regulation Act.
The High Court further said that such reporting by any media organisation that interfere an ongoing investigation or administration of justice in a case, will amount to contempt of court.
The high court made the observation while disposing of a batch of public interest litigations (PILs) filed by former police officers, activists, lawyers and NGOs from Maharashtra after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June, 2020.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S. Kulkarni said, “Reports/ discussions/ debates/interviews on the death of the actor flowed thick and fast from these TV channels in brazen disregard of the rule of law, the edifice on which the country’s Constitution rests. These TV channels took upon themselves the role of the investigator, the prosecutor as well as the Judge and delivered the verdict as if, during the pandemic, except they all organs of the State were in slumber.“
The Bench also gave a clean chit to Mumbai Police stating that as per the Supreme Court’s August 2020 order, the Mumbai Police cannot be accused of any wrong doing and criticism by media was unfair.
The court further noted, “While inquiry/investigation by Mumbai Police was strenuously asserted by these TV channels to be shoddy and questionable, the Supreme Court in its order dated August 19, 2020 recorded prima facie satisfaction of Mumbai Police not having indulged in any wrong doing.”
The Bench said, “any report carried by the print media or a programme telecast by a TV channel, live or recorded, ought to be such so as to conform to the Programme Code, the norms of journalistic standards and the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Regulations.; in default thereof, apart from action that could be taken under the prevailing regulatory mechanism, the erring media house could make itself liable to face an action in contempt, i.e., criminal contempt.”
The HC also issued a slew of guidelines for media houses to follow when reporting in cases of suicide.