Social activist and filmmaker Nilesh Navlakha has filed an additional affidavit before the Bombay High Court to place subsequent additional facts on record in the case filed by him against television broadcasters conducting media trials likely to prejudice an ongoing investigation.
Navlakha had filed the public interest plea drafted by Advocate Shashwat Anand and filed through Advocate Pankaj Khandari, seeking order restraining broadcasters from media trials or parallel investigations that are likely to prejudice an ongoing investigation. The Bombay High Court had reserved its judgment on the plea on November 6, 2020.
The petitioner has filed the present affidavit to bring on record certain material facts and documents that arose subsequent to the order being reserved which constitute admissions of the broadcasters before the News Broadcasters Standards Authority to assist the Court to effectively adjudicate upon the ‘lis’ involved and to enable the Court to frame appropriate guidelines or issue judicial directions, to cure the malaise of leakage of information as regards the ongoing investigations by the investigating agencies to the media.
The petitioner has brought to the Court’s attention that following the Bombay High Court’s order on September 10, 2020 in granting liberty to the NBSA to parallelly take cognizance of complaints made to it regarding media trials and regulations, the petitioners had filed a separate complaint before the NBSA on September 16, 2020.
The Bombay High Court, while hearing a plea against media trial by news channels in the Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case, had granted NBSA the liberty to investigate and act on all the private complaints that it has received related to the media trial in the case, and had also asked NBSA to file the status of the complaints in its reply before the court.
According to the petitioners, the broadcasters have telecast highly sensitive and confidential information in connection with the ongoing criminal investigations where the news outlets have made various statements based on purported disclosure statements made by the accused and other witnesses exclusively to the investigating officers, attributing the source of information to be from the investigating agencies.
The news channels have on their shows displayed the questions put by the officers to the accused or witnesses including facts related to the investigation that only officers should be privy to. This severely prejudices the ongoing investigation and fair trial of the case.
The applicant has stated that private WhatsApp chats exchanged between the accused, the late actor and other witnesses were displayed in the programmes, which resulted in seriously exposing the accused or witnesses to harm or vilification, thereby taking away their right to a fair trial. It was orally admitted by a prominent anchor of Times Now during the hearing before NBSA, that the WhatsApp chats, CDRs etc are not being manufactured by them but are being taken from Investigating Agencies.
The application has stated that while the Investigating Agencies including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have stated that no information has been leaked to the media by them, channels like ABP News and Times Now have admitted before the NBSA that several of their broadcasts were based upon information received from the Investigating Agencies.
According to Navlakha, leakage of information by the Investigating Officers or agencies and its dissemination by the electronic media leads to formation of unwarranted public opinion and media trials thereby smudging, subverting and sullying the fairness of ongoing investigations.
The National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) had in September 2020 decided to consider a Complaint filed by Adv Rajesh Inamdar and Amit Pai on behalf of social activist and film maker Nilesh Navlakha against Aajtak News channel, for its alleged insensitive and disparaging remarks against the Indian Army and its defiance of journalistic ethics while covering late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. Secretary General Annie Joseph, on behalf of NBSA, had stated that the complaint by Navlakha was forwarded to NBSA and sought suspension or cancellation of Aajtak’s licence for its repeated breach of programme code.
The complaint had made note of the channel’s coverage of the situation between India and China, quoting the statements made by news anchors Sweta Singh and her colleague Rohit Sardana during Aajtak’s lengthy segment on the escalated situation along the LAC and calling those comments on the Indian Army completely distasteful, disparaging and insensitive. Regarding the channel’s coverage of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the complaint stated that the channel demonstrated lack of empathy, was at the forefront of insensitive reporting and was outright predatory, in an attempt to garner TRPs defying journalistic ethics, the programme code and WHO guidelines.
The complaint had also stated that such broadcasts are clearly in breach of journalistic ethics and an offence against public order, and clearly show that Aajtak channel promotes sensationalism, fake news, an anti- national attitude disparaging of the Indian Army. The channel’s reporting, which according to the complainant was against good taste and decency, was defamatory, deliberate, with false and suggestive innuendos and half truth, and affects the integrity of the Country is clearly violative of Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks Act, 1995 , Rule 6 (a), (c), (d), (e), (h), (i), of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 (Rules), the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards and News Broadcasting Standards Regulations.
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