The Bombay High Court has said it was surprised to know that the government had no control over the electronic media and asked why television news should not be regulated by the state. The observation was made by a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni while hearing a bunch of petitions that sought various reliefs related to the case of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, including a direction to restrain the press in its coverage of the case.
According to a news agency report, the bench impleaded the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as a party in the matters. It also directed the ministry to file a reply in court indicating the extent of state control that is exercised in respect of telecasting news, particularly such news that “may have serious ramifications”.
The bench also made the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Enforcement Directorate, the central agencies that are currently probing issues related to the case, as parties. This, after the one of the petitioners alleged that the agencies were “leaking” probe related information to the press and the public.
The bench, however, refused to implead actor Rhea Chakraborty as respondent in the case. “We do not see any reason to implead the proposed respondent number 12 (Chakroborty), an accused who is presently in judicial custody,” it said.
The petitions, filed by activists, and eight retired senior police officers, allege, among other things that several TV channels were running a parallel probe into the case,and that they were running a malicious campaign against the Mumbai police through their current reportage in the case.
On September 3, another bench had heard the same pleas and had passed an order urging the press to show restraint while covering the developments of Sushant Singh Rajputs death case. On Thursday, senior advocate Milind Sathe, who appeared for the former police officials, told the bench that despite the order, TV channels were continuing with their slander against the Mumbai police.
Sathe submitted transcripts from news broadcasts whereby, channels had insinuated that the Mumbai police had been assisting or shielding the accused, and the “drug mafia”. CJ Datta told advocate Sathe that he shouldn’t be bothered by what a news anchor was saying. He, however, added that the court hoped and trusted that “the spirit of the order dated September 3” would be kept in mind by TV news channels.
The Union government, meanwhile, pointed out that the petitioners should have approached the Press Council of India, a statutory body which regulates the print media, and the News Broadcasting standards Authority (NBSA) with its grievances against the TV news channels. At this, the bench noted that the NBSA wasn’t a statutory body. “We are surprised that the state has no control over the electronic media. Why should it (TV news) not be regulated in case they may have serious ramifications,” the bench said.
It directed all parties to file their replies, rejoinders etc within the next two weeks, adding that while the pleas remained pending, the NBSA was free to act upon any complaints received so far against such news.