Friday, March 24, 2023

Delhi High Court reprimands Zee News for making public ‘disclosure’ statement of accused

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New Delhi (ILNS): The Delhi High Court came down heavily on Zee News for its irresponsible conduct of making public the disclosure statement of an accused in the Delhi riots case, when it did not even have the signatures of the accused.

The court also declined an application by the channel, represented through advocate Vijay Aggarwal, seeking to file the name of the source in a sealed cover. It however, gave another chance to the channel to file its affidavit disclosing the source of the statement that was broadcast on the channel.

A single judge bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru was hearing a plea filed by a Jamia Millia Islamia student alleging misconduct by police officials in leaking his disclosure statement, recorded by the probe agency during the investigation, to the media.

The order said that confessional/disclosure statements of an accused which are not in public domain cannot be accessed and are a part of the case diary, cannot be published while stating that a news channel, which had telecast and publish the disclosure statement of Jamia student in connection to the north-east Delhi riots, has prima facie, made a “mistake”.

Justice Vibhu Bakhru asked the news channel to look for appropriate redressal and asked them what remedies could be taken while observing that there can be no sensationalisation of the news media. It gave another chance to the channel to file its affidavit disclosing the source of the statement that was broadcast on the channel.

“Prima facie, we find that a mistake has been made by you. Now in order to redress the people who are aggrieved, think of an appropriate redressal,” the judge said.

Aggarwal requested the court to allow him to submit the affidavit in sealed cover stating that it is for the comfort of the journalist who has reported the matter as she had asked not to disclose the name of her source as it would put him in risk. He said that the right to freedom and speech entitles every person to report and read out the rules in the same regard.

To this the judge said, “You are crossing the line here. There is no material to show this. Police has conducted high level enquiry and is taking action against its officials.

“Police have already initiated a vigilance inquiry into the matter. You (Zee News) have got access to documents which even the accused does not have. You file the counter reply disclosing the source from where you got the document,” the judge added.

Appearing for the petitioner, his counsel Siddharth Aggarwal told the court that they are not concerned with the internal investigation of the police. He said that such a thing would not have been possible without the contact between the journalist and the prosecution. He said that his client had not even signed the disclosure statement.

The judge sought to know that if they find out, what remedy he would want. He said it is for the police to find out how the documents got leaked and put their house in order. Aggarwal said that his rights would be jeopardised and the world of journalists use and quote sources to report stories.

The court, however, maintained that it does not think that a journalist has a right to take out the case diary and publish it and that the news report cannot be based on documents which are not in the public domain.

“These are documents which you cannot take out and publish. There is no doubt about it,” the judge said.

While the police has claimed that the disclosure statement was not leaked by any of its officials, the counsel for the news channel said the journalist has requested that he should not be pressed to disclose his source of information in view of the fact that the truthfulness of the petitioner’s (also an accused) confessional statement has not been disputed by him in the petition. The police had said that even they are aggrieved with the news report.

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