Friday, February 3, 2023

Media trial case: Bombay HC declines to implead Rhea, allows ED, NCB, and media houses

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Mumbai: Bombay High Court has today declined the impleadment of Rhea Chakraborty, in the case against media trial by news channels in the Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case. The Court, however, allowed impleadment of the Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau and media houses like ABP News, India TV, and News Nation TV. 

A division Bench Chief justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni of Bombay High Court has directed the media to adhere to its previous order passed on September 3rd where it asked media houses to show restrain in reporting and not hamper investigation in Sushant Singh Rajput’s case.

An impleadment application was filed in the PIL filed by Nilesh Navlakha, M D Shhaikh, and Subhash Chaba, that sought to add Rhea Chakraborty, ED, NCB, and news channels ABP News, India TV, and News Nation as respondents in the plea. This was represented by Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat and Advocates Rajesh Inamdar, Shashwat Anand, and Amit Pai. The court has been hearing the plea along with other PILs filed by former IPS officers of the state, challenging the media trials, parallel proceedings, and investigation being done and broadcast by news channels. 

During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) informed the court that it is an independent self-regulatory authority headed by former Supreme Court Justice AK Sikri and 8 other members. It only adjudicates complaints and has received several complaints regarding the media trial being conducted by news channels. 

The bench inquired if any of the petitioners have made a complaint before the NBSA, to which all petitioners unanimously responded with a no. In response to the court’s statement that petitioners should approach the NBSA, which is an authority to adjudicate on these issues, Senior Advocate Milind Sathe responded by urging the court to consider and examine the issues involved in the present plea as it involves a larger issue. He added that meanwhile, the authority can consider this petition as a representation. 

The court 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 has asked NBSA to file the status of the complaints in their reply. 

On being informed that two other important bodies, the Association of Broadcasters and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) should also be made a party, the court allowed the impleadment of NBF. 

While the court granted liberty to all petitioners to file additional affidavits, a week’s time has been given to news channels to file their replies. Notices have been issued to added respondents returnable on October 8 and all respondents may file their reply affidavits by September 30. 

Among the news channels, Republic TV has already filed its affidavit, alleging that the instant petition has been filed with ulterior motive and with the ultimate aim to curtail the Freedom of Press enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India. There’s mala fide intent to coerce, harass and intimidate the answering respondent and other similarly placed media houses. 

Republic TV has stated in its affidavit that as one of the petitioners (Nilesh Navlakha) is part of the film industry, the plea may have been filed not only to curtail the rights of the press but with mala fide intention to safeguard the vested interests of such people who apprehend disclosures of their names. 

The plea being referred to here was filed by social activist and filmmaker Nilesh Navlakha and 2 others seeking temporary postponement of the media trial. The plea says that such media trials are being done in order to get more TRPs for their channels and agencies and will eventually hamper the investigation in progress. 

Read Also: SC says it is ‘inclined’ to rule against compound interest during moratorium period

According to the plea, several news channels have proceeded to already ‘convict’ the accused named in the FIR and have also made insinuations against high ranking officers of the Mumbai Police and ministers of the state without even completion of the investigation or probe in the matter. They have had the proposed witnesses examined and cross-examined and also exposed the probable evidence to the public which can only be done by the investigating agency or by the competent courts during the course of the trial. 

-India Legal Bureau

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