The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Bihar government and the Central Bureau of Investigation to respond to a plea challenging a Patna High Court order restraining the media from reporting on the investigation in the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, PTI reported.
Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta called for balancing interests of the investigators and press freedom, and agreed to examine the validity of the High Court’s gag order on September 18. In its order on August 23, the High Court had expressed concern about the leak of investigation details and had asked the media not to publish them as it could affect the inquiries being conducted.
The Supreme Court, however, urged journalists to “draw a line” and strike a balance as media trials cannot be allowed, it said. “The media goes to one complete extreme at a point. There has to be a balance,” said the bench. “You cannot say whatever you feel like saying. You cannot have media trials. Tell us where to draw the line.”
The apex court, which was dealing with a plea challenging a Patna High Court order restraining the media from reporting on the investigation into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, said the issue was not “simple”.
The top court also stayed the High Court’s August 29 decision to appoint an amicus curiae in the case.
The plea, filed by a journalist, claims the order is erroneous and equivalent to imposing a “blanket ban” on media reporting in the case. The High Court did not have sufficient material to conclude that media reporting could interfere with the ongoing investigation, the petition adds. The Editors Guild of India had criticised the directive and said it was distressed to learn that the court had curbed media freedom instead of protecting it.
On Saturday, Supreme Court judge Uday U Lalit said the press must regulate itself when reporting on criminal cases and not disclose details of the investigation as it can end up helping the accused. The judge made the remark while during the Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture Series in Ahmedabad.
The alleged sexual exploitation of children in the shelter came to light after Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences submitted an audit report of 110 shelter homes in the state in April. The audit had been ordered by the state government, which filed a first information report on May 31. Initially, the police said 16 girls had been sexually assaulted. Later, the figure was revised to 34 on the basis of a medical report released by the Patna Medical College and Hospital.
Former state Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma stepped down from her post on August 8 after allegations surfaced about her husband Chandeshwar Verma’s links to Brajesh Thakur, who used to run the shelter.