The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed media houses to exercise restraint while reporting on actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and not try to influence the investigation in the case, Live Law reported.
The court’s order came on two public interest litigations challenging the coverage of Rajput’s death. The first PIL was filed by eight former Indian Police Services officers, who had alleged that the media was portraying the Mumbai police in a negative light. The second litigation, filed by a newspaper editor, a filmmaker and a retired bureaucrat, was against the “parallel media trial” in the case.
“We urge and expect the media to exercise restraint in reporting of the investigation with respect to the death, which should not hamper investigation,” the High Court bench, comprising Justices AA Sayed and SP Tavade, said.
Senior advocate Milind Sathe, who was representing the former police officers, alleged that the media was carrying out a “malicious vilification campaign” against the Mumbai police. “Media has virtually taken over the investigation and is doing parallel investigation and parallel trial,” Sathe said. “Mumbai police is being called a co-conspirator.” Sathe said that the coverage in the case was against the ethics of journalism.
Sathe told the court that some television channels had been showing photos of Rajput’s body and also questioning witnesses in the case. “This is an attempt to influence the investigation and to prejudice the case,” he said.
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Senior advocate Devdatt Kama, who represented the second batch of petitioners, also spoke about the concerns of a trial by the media. “A trial by press is the very antithesis of rule of law and can lead to miscarriage of justice”, he submitted. “What is guiding the media is not the quest for truth but a quest for TRP [Television Rating Points] and more commercial gains.”
Rajput was found dead in his apartment in Bandra on June 14, in what the Mumbai Police said was a case of suicide. His death is being investigated by the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.
Last week, the Press Council of India had also advised media organisations to adhere to journalistic standards, refrain from sensational reporting and not conduct a parallel trial in the investigation into Rajput’s death.
Several TV news channels have been targeting actor Rhea Chakraborty, who is the key accused in Rajput’s death. Chakraborty has been accused by Rajput’s family of drugging him and driving him to suicide. In a TV interview last month, Chakraborty had spoken of the harassment that she and her family were facing. “The witch-hunt mentality has destroyed my family’s life,” she told the news channel.
On Sunday, the Network of Women in Media had also criticised media houses for targeting Chakraborty and said investigating authorities should be allowed to do their job fairly.