The Bombay High Court on Wednesday rapped Republic TV for its reportage on the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, and asked whether the channel suggestively pronouncing on the merits of the matter that is sub judice and building public opinion on arrests constituted “investigative journalism”, Live Law reported.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni was referring to the #ArrestRhea campaign run by the channel on Twitter against actor Rhea Chakraborty after Rajput’s death. “Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking the public about their opinion on who should be arrested?” the bench asked advocate Malvika Trivedi, the channel’s lawyer.
It also asked the channel’s lawyer why Republic TV aired photos of the body and speculated on whether the actor’s death was a case of suicide or homicide, PTI reported. “The grievance is regarding #ArrestRhea,” the High Court said. “Why is this part of your channel news?
The High Court made the observations on media trials while hearing the final arguments on several petitions seeking that the press be restrained in its reportage of Rajput’s death. Republic TV’s counsel had earlier told the court that the channel was carrying out investigative journalism to “unearth the facts” relating to the case.
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The lawyer submitted that there was “something amiss” in the Mumbai Police investigation and that was the reason the Supreme Court entrusted the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation. “There were lacunae in the investigation and Sushant’s family also came to the front demanding justice,” Trivedi said. She added that since a celebrity had died, the public was curious to know the “real facts”.
“Republic TV was only highlighting those facts which were not otherwise brought on record,” the channel’s lawyer claimed. Trivedi claimed that it was the investigative reports of Republic TV that “brought to light the real facts” in Sheena Bora murder case and Sunanda Pushkar case.
But the bench told Trivedi that “investigative powers are given to the police under the Criminal Code of Procedure”. “When a case is under investigation and the issue is whether it’s a homicide or a suicide and a channel is saying it is murder, is all this investigative journalism?” it asked.
The High Court chastised the channel for sensationalising the actor’s death. “There are certain Suicide Reporting guidelines,” it pointed out. “There should be no sensational headlines. Don’t you have respect for the dead? It is so unfortunate.”
On the #ArrestRhea campaign, the court observed that it was their prima facie view that the channel had depicted Rhea Chakraborty “in such a way that infringes on her rights”.
Coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death
Over the last few months, the death of the actor has dominated television news coverage. The Mumbai Police said it was a case of suicide, but subsequently Rajput’s family filed a complaint with Bihar Police accusing his former live-in partner Rhea Chakraborty of abetment of suicide and cheating. Three central agencies – the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate, the Narcotics Control Bureau – took up cases against her.
On September 3, the Bombay High Court asked the news channels to show restraint in reporting the case. When the matter came up before the court again on September 11, the court expressed surprise that there was no state control over electronic media.
On September 17, the Delhi High Court had directed media houses to exercise restraint after actor Rakul Preet Singh filed a petition against unsubstantiated reports linking her with a drug case, in which Rhea Chakraborty is a prime accused. Singh had argued that media reports are being run in contravention with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting guidelines.
Before that, the Press Council of India had 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. The Network of Women in Media had also criticised media houses for targeting Rhea Chakraborty and said investigating authorities should be allowed to do their job fairly.
Investigation into the case also put Bollywood in muddied waters, as the Narcotics Control Bureau claimed to have unearthed a close nexus between illegal drug consumption and the film industry. On October 12, top Bollywood filmmakers and producers filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against “irresponsible reporting by certain media houses” around Rajput’s death. The lawsuit was filed against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami and Pradeep Bhandari of the channel; and Times Now and its prominent anchors Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar.