The Bombay high court on Wednesday sought to know from Republic TV how its statements that asked the public to decide on who should be arrested in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case could be termed as investigative journalism.
It also questioned the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) on why it did not initiate suo motu action on complaints about alleged media trial in the SSR case.
The court while hearing the responses of various news channels on the allegations made by the petitioners in the various public interest litigations against them was informed that the reporting was not intended to influence or prejudice the minds of the judges or the court and the contentions of the petitioners were unfounded.
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni while hearing the responses of the NBF was informed by advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar that the self-regulating authority had been abiding by the standards set out in the Cable TV Regulation Act. Bhatnagar submitted that various courts including the Supreme Court had refrained from interfering in the existing mechanism.
Bhatnagar was, however, unable to respond to the court’s query as to why the NBF had not taken any suo motu action against member channels after receiving complaints of the media trial being conducted in the SSR case.
Advocate Malvika Trivedi, counsel for Republic TV started countered the claims of the petitioners that the channel had tried to malign the Mumbai police by accusing it of not carrying out proper investigation in the SSR case.
“There was some lacunae in the investigation by Mumbai police which the Supreme Court observed and hence allowed the investigation to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” she said.
She added that the demand for transfer of investigation was made by the family of the late actor and the public was also curious to know the facts.
She further submitted that the reporting was part of the investigative journalism undertaken by the channel.
The court referred to hashtag ‘arrest Rhea Chakrabarty’ which was publicized by the channel and sought to know from Trivedi whether asking the public on who should be arrested was investigative journalism, Trivedi responded saying that it was on social media.
“These are public tweets and public opinions. The petition does not ask for relief pertaining to this. I am only saying that there is a reason and context of these tweets. Any person who is aggrieved and has a locus standi, can approach the self-regulatory authority and get relief.”
The bench while assuring the channel that it was not singling out Republic TV, sought to know that when investigation was underway in the SSR case on whether it was homicide or suicide, why had the channel had taken a stand that it was murder and whether the stand was part of the investigative journalism.
Trivedi then drew the attention of the court to previous cases wherein the media had played a vital role in the investigations and had also received applause for its contribution based on which arrests were made. “The Supreme Court has appreciated the work done by Republic TV in one of the cases,” said Trivedi.
While hearing responses of other channels, the court observed that it did not intend to throttle the voice of the media but expected the media to exercise restraint while reporting on sensitive issues and not cross the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ which was referred to by the petitioners. The court will continue hearing the matter on Friday.