Sushant Singh Rajput case: Bombay HC frowns on media, warns against hampering probe
Mumbai, September 3, 2020
The Bombay High Court on Thursday urged the media to exercise "restraint" while reporting on the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, and not report in a manner which may hamper the investigations.
"We urge and expect the media to exercise restraint in reporting of the investigation with respect to the (Sushant) death, which should not hamper the investigation in any manner," a Division Bench comprising Justice A. A. Sayed and Justice S. P. Tavade ordered.
Hearing two public interest litigations (PILs) -- one filed by eight retired IPS officers of Maharashtra, and another by three activists -- the court also issued notices to the respondents, and said it would consider the reliefs sought in the matter after getting the version of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is handling the probe.
Arguing for the PIL by the former IPS officers, senior advocate Milind Sathe termed the media reporting, especially by the electronic media as a "parallel media trial" in which there was vilification of the Mumbai Police.
"Media has virtually taken over the investigation, conducting a parallel probe and a parallel trial... Mumbai Police is being called a 'co-conspirator', there is a malicious vilification campaign," said Sathe.
He contended that the petitioners are not concerned about who is investigating the case, the accused or the victim but are concerned about the reporting in the case which violates journalistic ethics.
Sathe referred to the Supreme Court judgement on August 19, which found no fault with the procedures adopted by the Mumbai Police in the probe, but despite this the media was engaged in falsely tarnishing the city police's image.
He also pointed out how some media were calling witnesses and asking them questions which was like a 'parallel investigation', an attempt to influence the probe and prejudice the case.
In the second PIL filed by filmmaker Nilesh Navlakha, journalist M. D. Shaikh and retired bureaucrat S. C. Chaba, filed by lawyers Rajesh Inamdar and Shashwat Anand, senior advocate Devadatt Kamat said that the media had flouted the norms of Press Council of India and Program Code under the Cable TV Act.
"While one TV channel said Sushant's suicide was a 'hit wicket', another showed the body of the dead actor, one channel circulated fake tweets as Sushant's last message and later when found false, deleted them, and channels discuss the private chats between the late actor and Rhea Chakraborty," Kamat argued.
Contending that the media is not after truth but for TRPs and more commercial gains, Kamat pointed out how, when one witness stepped out of the CBI probe, the media hounded him on what questions he was asked.
In an unprecedented gesture, eight retired IPS officers rallied together on behalf of the beleaguered Mumbai Police to save its reputation being maligned in the ongoing high-profile probe in the Sushant death case and the subsequent "media trial".
The eight former officers -- who held top positions in the Maharashtra Police -- have, in their PIL, sought directions to halt the "unfair, malicious and false media campaign" against the Mumbai Police in the matter.
The petitioners are: M. N. Singh, P. S. Pasricha, D. N. Jadhav, D. Shivanandan, Sanjeev Dayal, K. Subramaniam, S. C. Mathur and K. P. Raghuvanshi -- all Directors-General level at the time of their retirement and enjoying an envious reputation.
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh lauded the move by the retired IPS officers on Thursday.
"Maharashtra and Mumbai Police have a reputation. They are compared to the Scotland Yard. The manner in which Mumbai Police was targeted in the case, I welcome the PIL," Deshmukh told mediapersons.
Filed through a prominent law firm, Crawford, Bayley & Company's senior advocate Milind Sathe, the PIL named the Union and State Governments, Press Council of India and News Broadcasters Association as respondents.
The PIL sought guidelines for the media houses, whether print, electronic, radio, Internet or television or any other form, to refrain from publishing and circulating any false, derogatory and scandalous comments, social media posts, news stories, etc, that could jeopardise the police's reputation and may cause the people to lose faith in the system and the police administration, or hinder the cause of administration of justice.