The Delhi High Court on Friday said that the media coverage following the arrest of 22-year old climate activist Disha Ravi showed that there was “sensationalised reporting”, adding that the right to privacy, sovereignty and integrity of the country and freedom of speech needs to be balanced, Live Law reported.
It also asked the Delhi Police to follow the guidelines prescribed by the home ministry while holding press conferences. “While press briefings are held, generally, the media cannot disseminate the information in such a sensationalised manner,” the court said.
Advocate Akhil Sibal, appearing for Ravi, told the court that government circular says that police press briefing should only be done at a time of registration of the case, the arrest of accused or otherwise until filing of the chargesheet, reported Bar & Bench. “The nature of the press briefing is contrary to the OM [office memo by the government], it was not restricted to facts, it had details, particulars, inferences, opinions,” Sibal said.
A bench headed by Justice Pratibha M Singh was hearing a plea filed by Ravi on Thursday, which sought action against three television news channels – Times Now, India Today and News18 – who, she submitted, published “visceral content”. Ravi alleged that she was being subjected to a prejudiced “media trial”.
Ravi had contended that the three channels violated the Cable Televisions Networks (Regulation) Act and sought a restraint order against them from the court. Ravi also sought directions from the court to restrain the police from leaking any investigation material in connection with the case. The court on Thursday issued notices to the three channels and sought their response.
On Friday, while the court refused to take any action against the news channels, it asked editors of the media organisations “to ensure that proper editorial control is exercised while disseminating information”, so that it does not hamper the investigation. The court made the observations after suggesting that while it would take longer for all respondents in the case to file their reply, it had seen a video broadcast by News18 and tweets by the Delhi Police, which Ravi had mentioned in her plea.
Plea an attempt to defame us: Delhi Police
The court also asked Ravi to give an undertaking that there was no “indulgence” in her plea to malign the police and other authorities. To this, Ravi’s counsel Akhil Sibal pointed out that there was nothing on record in this regard. But the court held that the “apprehension” was raised by Delhi Police’s counsel, and so the undertaking was necessary.
During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, representing the Delhi Police, denied that there was any leak of information to the media. He alleged that the plea was an attempt to “defame and vilify” and put pressure on Delhi Police, Live Law reported.
“There are several persons interrogating, somebody may leak it,” Raju said, according to Bar and Bench. “There may be 10 persons interrogating, a peon may leak...”
He said that a WhatsApp chat between Ravi and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, which was aired by news channels, was from February 3. “She [Ravi] herself could have given her mobile to someone from 3rd to 13th... who may have leaked,” he claimed.
The court pointed out to him that news channels were citing Delhi Police as their source. To this, Raju replied, “What media says may not be gospel truth... To hide his source, [he] may say it is the police.” The court said that while a journalist cannot be asked to reveal their source, it has to be authentic.
Raju sought time till Monday to respond on the matter and assured the court that the Delhi Police will not hold any press conference till then.
Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the petition was “premature”, as Disha Ravi had not approached the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and not taken recourse of the laws in place, Bar and Bench reported.
Advocate Nisha Bhambani, appearing for the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, also took the same stand. She suggested that the body did not receive any complaint, or it could have taken action as the three channels are its members.
Ravi was arrested on February 13 from her Bengaluru residence by the crime branch of the Delhi Police for allegedly sharing and editing a document intended to help the protests against the new farm laws. The next day, a Delhi court sent Ravi to police custody for five days. The “toolkit” – a common term used by social activists for campaign material – was tweeted by Thunberg in support of India’s protesting farmers on February 4.