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Media cannot usurp the jurisdiction of the courts which alone has the constitutional authority to decide the guilt/innocence of a person or decide on the content: Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court upheld that half-truths and false material cannot serve as the foundation for publications or broadcasts through Justice Mohammed Nias C.P in the case of T.N. Suraj v. State of Kerala (WP (Crl.) No. 346 of 2022)

FACTS OF THE CASE:

Although a report was filed by the investigating officer changing Section 120B to Section 120 B (1) for adding offence under Section 302 IPC, the petitioner was still listed as the third accused in the case for allegedly committing crimes under Sections 116, 118, 120-B, and 506 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. One of the investigators served as the de facto complainant. Initially, there were just 7 accused in the case; however, Mr. Gopalakrishnan, the petitioner’s brother-in-law and a movie actor, was later added as an eighth accused.

It was claimed that the 6th respondent used his online news portal to broadcast items about the cases in question beginning on December 25, 2021, fabricating more and more allegations against Mr Dileep and the petitioner about matters under consideration in the ongoing trial and the pending investigation. The sixth respondent was accused of sensationalizing/publicizing/broadcasting fake claims against the accused and their acquaintances. Respondents 3 to 5 were explicitly accused of leaking reports from the alleged inquiry, which led to the parallel trial by the media.

The first interim relief sought was to prohibit the publication/broadcast of matters relating to the above-mentioned crime and the Sessions Case, except for orders issued by courts of law, until the Writ Petition is decided, and to order the 6th respondent to produce the contents of the entire telecast from 25-12-2021 to the present in Report TV Channel and their Portal concerning the matter

JUDGEMENT:

According to the High Court, media interest or debate are all permitted in a democracy governed by the rule of law, with one unbreakable exception: the media cannot suggest, publish, or broadcast during a trial or investigation that A or B is guilty or that C or D is not a reliable or honest witness. The aforementioned are not permitted since they go beyond the media’s permitted rights to infer guilt or innocence, witness credibility, etc.

It was observed that “Publication of leaks from the investigation agencies and to level allegations against individuals based on such leaks are not protected by the freedom of press under Article 19 (a) of the Constitution and it cannot be a defense that what was telecast was the allegation based on the prima facie findings of an investigating agency or worse on the basis of suspicions of Investigating agency.”

According to the Bench, even an accused person detained during an inquiry and brought before a magistrate in accordance with Section 167 (1) CrPC is only allowed to obtain a copy of the remand report because it is on this premise that his custody is requested. It is difficult to understand how any other person/citizen/media can obtain copies of the information to which even the accused is not entitled when the Code only requires the investigating Officer to transmit to the Magistrate a copy of the entries in the case diary. At that point, the only document to which the accused is entitled to obtain a copy is the remand report.

The Court suggested that members of the electronic media be bound by the spirit of the Press Council of India’s Norms of Journalist Conduct released in 2019. The Bench decided that the 6th respondent should be barred from telecasting/publishing the reports and that the current case justifies going so far as issuing directions against the 6th respondent to prevent such publications relating to the petitioner.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY REETI SHETTY

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