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The press shall not indulge in sensationalism: Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court emphasized that the press must not speculate on the guilt or innocence of any accused or other people through the Division Bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Sophy Thomas in the case of Indo-Asian News Channel (P) Ltd. v. T.N. Suraj (WA NO. 566 OF 2022)

FACTS OF THE CASE:

The appellant challenged the interim order in which the Single Judge directed the appellant to ‘not publish/broadcast/telecast any item concerning or relating to the petitioner herein while reporting about Crime No.6/2022 of Crime Branch Police Station and S.C.No.118/2018 of Additional Special Sessions Court (SPE/CBI) III, Ernakulam except the order of the Court for a period of three weeks from today’.

The appellant contended that the foregoing amounted to a complete ban and violated the well-established principles of press freedom to report and publish the truth.

JUDGEMENT:

The Court looked into the Supreme Court’s holdings in Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd. v. SEBI, (2012) 10 SCC 603, wherein the Hon’ble Court has unambiguously declared that orders postponing reporting of certain phases of Criminal Trial (including the identity of the victim, witness, or complainant) can be applied for a short duration and solely in cases of “real and substantial risk of prejudice” to the prosecution.

According to the Bench, the various High Courts and the Supreme Court have repeatedly been engaged qua the contours of the precarious balance between reporting facts relating to a crime and the indispensable requirements to be maintained for a Fair Trial; however, there can be little doubt that the Press has a duty to inform the public truthfully about crimes and facts relating to the investigation, arrest, and such other. In a more detailed statement, the Court stated that the press cannot be permitted to run amok and must be subjected to appropriate constraints in order to ensure that every trial and investigation is conducted fairly, honestly, and above board.

The Bench stated that, while it does not wish to comment on the merits of the opposing factual contentions, there is no doubt that the direction not to publish/broadcast/telecast “any item” concerning or relating to the appellant “certainly goes beyond the reasonableness of the restrictions sanctioned by the Supreme Court.”

The Bench deemed it appropriate to dismiss the writ appeal, vacating the impugned order to the extent that it had barred the appellant from reporting “any item” relating to the first respondent but clarifying that they shall not engage in sensationalism or pursue any line of reportage intended to forge an impression against the first respondent or any other accused or witness with respect to their involvement or otherwise in the crime; and without, in any manner, compulsion.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY REETI SHETTY

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