The Bombay High Court on Monday noted that Republic TV and Times Now’s reporting against the Mumbai Police in the Sushant Singh Rajput case was “prima facie contemptuous”, but refrained from taking any action against them, Live Law reported.
The bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni was hearing a batch of petitions against the “media trial” following the actor’s death.
The court noted that trial by media interferes with the police’s criminal investigation. “Reconstructing of crime scenes, interviews with potential witnesses, leaking sensitive and confidential information should be avoided,” the bench said. “Press/media ought to avoid discussions, debates relating to criminal investigation and should confine only to informative reports in such matters in public interest.”
The judges rebuked the lawyers representing Republic TV. “If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge, what is the use of us?” they asked. “Why are we here? Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking public about their opinion on who should be arrested?
The Bombay High Court also ruled that the Press Council of India’s guidelines while reporting on suicide cases will govern electronic media till the time it comes up with its own guidelines, according to Bar and Bench.
The petitioners in the case had urged the court to direct media houses to refrain from reportage that could affect the investigation into the actor’s death. They also sought the framing of guidelines to regulate television and print media, without curbing their freedom. One petition, filed by eight former Indian Police Services officers, had objected to the media’s negative portrayal of the Mumbai Police.
In September, the Bombay High Court had directed media houses to exercise restraint while reporting about Rajput’s death and not try to influence the investigation in the case. The court had reserved its judgement in the case on November 6.
Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on June 14, in what the police initially said appeared to be a case of suicide. But Rajput’s family filed a complaint with the 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.
Chakraborty, who was eventually arrested for consuming drugs, was granted bail on October 7. Her brother was also arrested in the case and granted bail after three months.
Bollywood’s alleged drugs nexus
Investigation into Rajput’s death also put Bollywood in muddied waters after the Narcotics Control Bureau claimed to have unearthed a close nexus between drug peddlers and the film industry. Several actors, including Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, and Rakul Preet Singh have been questioned in the case.
The NCB had on November 8 arrested Shabana Saeed, the wife of Bollywood producer Firoz Nadiadwala, after investigators seized 10 grams of marijuana during a raid at her Juhu residence in Mumbai. On October 26, the agency had arrested five people in Mumbai, including television actor Preetika Chauhan. In November, comedian Bharti Singh and her husband were also arrested. They were later granted bail on November 24.
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.