The Bombay High Court on Monday ruled that media trials during an ongoing police investigation obstructs justice and hence can be considered as contempt of court.
The high court further observed that the Centre had abdicated its duty to reign in the channels and make them comply with its own regulations in the coverage of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death.
The high court pulled up media channels for their coverage of Rajput's death and held that some reporting by Republic TV and Times Now is prima facie contemptuous but chose not to take any action against them.
The division bench of the high court comprising of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni gave a detailed verdict on this issue and have also issued a slew of guidelines for the print and electronic media. The high court further held that till there is no legislation in place, media must follow guidelines issued by the Press Council fo India in matters of death by suicide.
The high court's verdict came on a batch of PILs that sought the postponement of "media trials" and sought "guidelines" for reporters covering crime in the wake of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death in June 2020. The Mumbai police had prima facie ruled his death as a suicide.
Since Rajput's death, media channels—especially Times Now, Republic, The India Today Group, News 18, NDTV and Zee News—have run a sustained coverage of the news on this issue. The nonstop coverage also triggered a surge in disinformation on social media with a number of 'Justice for Sushant Singh' groups cropping up online that vilified Rajput's girlfriend actor Rhea Chakraborty.
During hearings, the high court had urged the media channels to exercise restraint while reporting details of Rajput's death. We only "urge and expect" the media channels "to exercise restraint" in "reporting pertaining to the investigation of unnatural death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput which would in any manner hamper or prejudice the ongoing investigation" conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the court had said.
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