The Delhi High Court on Friday refused to stop journalist Arnab Goswami and his channel Republic TV from airing news about the death of senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar.

The court added that the channel should respect Tharoor’s right to remain silent about the case, and directed it to send him an advance notice seeking his views before airing any news on the matter.

In his judgement, Justice Manmohan observed that the media had the right to broadcast information on legal matters, but “without violating the presumption of innocence”. He said that journalists had a privilege in the defamation law, if what they publish is based on “a reasonable verification of facts” and is not produced with malice or disregard for truth.

However, there was no evidence to prove either malice or disregard for truth in Republic TV’s reportage on Sunanda Pushkar’s death, the judgement said.

The court said that the reporting about Sunanda Pushkar’s death by Republic TV fell in the realm of “legitimate investigative journalism”, because three and a half years after her death, no charge-sheet has been filed. “...the defendants cannot be denied the right to telecast a story as it is a matter of substantial importance with respect to a public figure,” the order read.

Some observations from the court on the media:

Journalists are free to investigate but they cannot pronounce anyone guilty and/or pre-judge the issue and/or prejudice the trial.  

The culture of thrusting a microphone in the face of a person needs to be deprecated.  

Undoubtedly, TV viewers who want to watch “action films” should not watch TV debates on current affairs on the ground that it contains more action and violence than any action film. There is need to lift the level of TV debates, but other than expressing a fond hope, the Court can do no more.

Tharoor vs Goswami

Shashi Tharoor had filed a defamation case against the news anchor on May 26 after Republic TV had aired what it called an exposé connected to Pushkar’s case. Goswami’s new venture had broadcast what it claimed were audio tapes of a conversation between one of the channel’s reporters and one of Tharoor’s aides.

Republic TV had claimed that the tapes proved that Pushkar’s body had been moved from one room to another at the Leela Palace Hotel in Delhi on January 17, 2014, the night she had died.

The Congress leader had denounced the segment, calling it a publicity stunt to “create attention” for the channel. On May 29, the High Court had told Goswami and Republic TV that they could report facts on Pushkar’s death, but could not call the politician names.

In August, the Delhi High Court had sought Republic TV and Goswami’s reply on a petition filed by Tharoor against the channel’s alleged misreporting on Pushkar’s death. “Arnab Goswami and the channel have to respect Tharoor’s right to silence on the issue,” the bench had said.