Sushant Singh Rajput, Bombay High Court
Sushant Singh Rajput, Bombay High Court
Litigation News

PILs against Media Trial in SSR case: Petitioner urges Bombay HC to take up larger issues while regulatory bodies deal with complaints

Inter alia, the Court today declined to allow the impleadment of actress Rhea Chakraborty, who is presently in judicial custody following arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau.

Meera Emmanuel

The hearing today before the Bombay High Court on PILs moved against media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput case saw fervent submissions being made by the Centre for the regulatory bodies to first examine complaints made over the issue.

Complaints can be addressed by regulatory bodies: Centre

The Central Government, through its Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), has also filed an affidavit to this end, which states,

"With regard to the content violation in the print and electronic media, the petitioner may approach the appropriate forum ... These forums take necessary action on the representation in accordance with the existing Guidelines/Rules/Regulations."

The affidavit details that complaints on unethical media reporting can be dealt with by the Press Council of India, which is a statutory body governing print media standards, and the self-regulatory News Broadcasters Association (NBA).

The NBA, in turn, has set up the set up the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) which deals with complaints concerning broadcasts in TV channels.

In their affidavit, the Centre has informed that complaints over the reportage in the Sushant Singh Rajput case have already been recieved, and that the same is being enquired into. It is also stated that advisories have been issued by these regulatory bodies on reporting on suicides and in the Sushant Singh Rajput case.

Further, it is stated that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also has an institutional mechanism to deal with violations of programme codes.

To this end, an Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by the Additional Secretary (I&B), and comprising of officers from various Union Ministries including Home Affairs, Defence, External Affairs, Information and Broadcasting etc. and a representative from the advertising standards council of India has been constituted to review the NBA's decision. The Centre has added that the final decision regarding penalty and its quantum is taken by the MIB.

Examine larger issues raised by the case: Petitioner urges

Additional Solicitor General C Anil Singh today requested the Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni to direct the petitioers to first approach the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasting Standards Association (NBSA) first with their complaints.

"Let them look into the matter first", ASG Singh submitted.

"Have you made any application (complaint) before News Broadcasting Standards Authority?", the Court asked the petitioners today.

However, Senior Advocate Milind Sathe for one of the petitioners pressed for the High Court to consider the larger issues that were raised in the matter, in any case.

Sathe pointed out that since the NBSA is not a statutory body, it may not be viewed as "State" under the Constitution and, therefore, its decisions may not be amenable to the jurisdiction of courts under Article 32 of the Constitution.

He, therefore, urged the Court to examine the larger issues, adding that the NBSA can consider any complaints made to them in the meanwhile.

Accordingly, the Court today clarified in its order that the pendency of the the PILs petitions before them would not preclude the News Broadcasting Standards Authority from considering complaints that have been received by it and to take appropriate action thereon in accordance with the law.

The Bench has also asked the Authority to incorporate any decisions made on such complaints in the affidavit to be filed by it.

No reason to implead Rhea Chakraborty: Court

The Court today also declined to allow the impleadment of actress Rhea Chakraborty, who is presently in judicial custody following arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

An application had earlier been moved to implead Chakraborty on the ground that she would be in a position to explicity apprise the Court of the ordeal she was put and the witch hunt against her in the course of media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput case.

The Court, however, today opined that it did not see any reason why Chakraborty should be impleaded in the matter. However, the other proposed respondents i.e. the ABP News, India TV and News Nation have been directed to be impleaded as additional respondents.

Matter likely to be taken up on October 8

Media groups earlier not impleaded in one of the PILs are also to be impleaded without any delay, the Court said.

Notice to the added respondents has been issued returnabe by October 8. The respondents may file their reply affidavits by September 30, and rejoinder affidavits, if any may be filed by October 6.

On request, the Court has also granted the petitioner liberty to file an additional affidavit in the matter, bringing on record subsequent events in the case by tomorrow.

Before parting with the case for the day, the Bench also expressed that it hopes and trusts that the spirit of the September 3 order in the matter would be complied with by media organisations.

In the September 3 order, a coordinate Bench had urged the media to show restrain in reporting on the Sushant Singh Rajput case to ensure that its reporting does not hamper or prejudice the ongoing probe.

Concerns raised over lack of State control over electronic media

The Court today also heard another PIL moved earlier over the manner in which the media has been reporting on the death of Sushant Singh Rajput.

After hearing brief arguments made by Advocate Asim Sarode today, the Bench expressed that it understood the concerns being raised by the lawyer.

The Court orally observed that there seemed to be little control over electronic media, remarking,

"Why shouldn't there be a State control? This body (NBA) has no teeth at all!"

The Court also noted that the issues raised by the petitioner were similar to those expressed in the two other PILs filed in the wake of media reportage on the Sushant Singh Rajput case, which were heard immediately before this plea was taken up.

The Court proceeded to order the impleadment of the Union of India in the matter. The Bench added that the Centre may file its response on the extent of State control exercised in respect of telecasting news and other ancilliary matters for the Court's consideration. The Court's order reads,

"Inter alia, it may indicate therein the extent of regulatory control that the State can exercise qua telecast of news items by the electronic media pertaining to suicidal death of a celebrity, being the concern that the petitioner seeks the Court to address, as well as unnatural death of a person of repute having serious ramifications and other ancillary matters which might come up for consideration while deciding this PIL petition."

The plea has been listed to be taken up next on October 8.

Read the orders:

Nilesh Navlakha & Ors v. MIB - September 10.pdf
Asim Suhas Sarode v. NBA - September 10.pdf
Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news