On Monday, the Bombay High Court sought to know from the Union government why there should not be a statutory body to regulate the content broadcast through television news channels, and asked why the electronic media has been given an "open-hand" in its coverage. The dialogue started while hearing a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) against the press, due to the media coverage around actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death and the case investigation.
The HC bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni asked, "Is there a statutory mechanism for (TV news) broadcasters?" and added, "Just as how the Press Council of India exists for the print media, why don't you (Union government) think of a similar council for the electronic media? Why should they have an open hand?"
Several PILs have been filed by several retired senior police officers, activists and private citizens, seeking that the press, particularly TV news channels, should be asked to exercise restrain in their reportage on the Bollywood actor's death case. The pleas also called out press for conducting "media trials" and scribing roles and presuming guilt of the accused persons, thus hampering a fair probe and trial .
ASG: The Press Has The Freedom And Its Rights
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, who appeared for the Union government, told the bench that news channels "did not have an open hand as such. It is not as if the government is not doing anything. It does take action on complaints received (against channels). But ultimately, the government cannot control everything. The press has the freedom and its rights".
However, the court revealed that all the complaints received earlier have been forwarded to private bodies such as the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and News Broadcasters Federation (NBF).
Devadatt Kamat Asks Government To Take Charge
Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, who appeared for the NBA, has claimed that it is the government's responsibility to look into the matter than outsourcing it. He also said that statutory provisions and rules exist under the Cable TV Act and the Center should enforce these provisions.
"The question is whether this outsourcing is permissible or whether the authorities have to be responsible to enforce what the statute provides. When government has a regime in place, where is the question of GOI (Government of India) abdicating its duties and asking these private, self-righteous associations (to look into complaints)?" Kamat said.
Devadatt Kamat Questions The Leak Of Information Amid Investigation
He also argued that the media trial in Sushant's case against the accused violated her right to life and personal liberty as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution and that it amounted to an interference in the administration of justice.
He urged the court to look at the "allied issue" of the "leakage of information by investigating agencies" while their probes are going on. According to reports, Bombay High Court will continue hearing the arguments in the case on Wednesday, October 14, 2020.