The Bombay High Court saw noteworthy arguments and exchanges in the ongoing PIL filed against Media Trials, on account of media coverage, into the issue of death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni heard the matter for the entire day.
Senior Advocate Siddhartha Bhatnagar appeared on behalf of the National Broadcasters Federation and batter for self-regulatory mechanisms on the press. He told the court that the guidelines that currently exist were sufficient and enough and that government control of the press was unwarranted, which, if brought in, could be dangerous. While elaborating on the effectiveness of the NBF, Bhatnagar informed the court that the NBF is a private association, having its own regulatory mechanisms headed by a retired Supreme Court judge. “It has set up a self-regulatory body called Professional News Broadcasting Standards Organization (PNBSO),” he added. Further, he stated that the fact that the Programme Code was being amended from time to time was proof that it was effective and did not remain static.
Bhatnagar then took the bench through judgments to substantiate the dangers of Government control over the press. To do this, he referred to Indian Express Newspapers vs. Union of India, which is a 1985 judgment of the Supreme Court.
Bhatnagar then referred to Shreya Singhal V. Union of India which was a challenge to Section 66A of the Information technology Act.
The Senior Counsel told that the court that persons who are likely to be attacked by the media, perhaps more viciously are government’s officials and if the limits are crossed, enough safeguards are present to deal with it. The court then asked Bhatnagar whether the NBF could have suo motu cognizance powers. To this, he responded by stating that this was something he would be suggesting to his client. The court also expressed concerns over the practice of “media trial” while hearing a batch of petitioners seeking regulations on the reportage of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
“If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge what is the use of us? Why are we here”, the bench asked Advocate Malvika Trivedi. The lawyer representing Republic TV. The court also asked the lawyers of Republic TV if asking the public who should be arrested in a case is part of investigating journalism. The bench posed the query in reference to the has tag campaign “#ArrestRhea” run by the Channel in Twitter following the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Sigh Rajput.
The court is set to hear the plea(s) further on Friday at noon.