Is there a mechanism for checking of TV news before damage is done? Bombay HC asks Centre


PTI, Oct 16, 2020, 7:09 PM IST

Credit: Getty Images

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the Union government if there is any mechanism for checking the content broadcast by news channels before the “damage is done”.

Hearing Public Interest Litigations about coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the court also said that if the media crossed the line, it is for the legislature to act.

“In a case where the media crosses the `Lakshman Rekha’, it is for the Parliament to step in. Why should the court do it?” the HC said.

The petitioners, which includes several former IPS officers, have said there is a “media trial” going on in the Rajput case, and it should be stopped.

“All public officers are liable to be removed if something happens. Same for private employment. People are taken to task for not behaving properly,” a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni said.

“For print media you have censor, something is there by the state. You do not seem to be in the mood to ruffle feathers with respect to electronic media,” the bench said.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Union government, argued that the Supreme Court has maintained that the government must not interfere with the freedom of the press, and the press must be encouraged to have a system of self-regulation.

But the HC noted that the judgments cited by Singh were old. “These judgments are from 2012-2013. Times have changed. This is the most misused freedom now,” it said.

The bench also referred to the Chief Justice of India’s recent remark that freedom of speech is most abused.

The high court further said it was concerned with the efficiency of the present mechanism of regulation with regard to news channels.

“Everyone seems to be having an unfettered license to say whatever they want… Before the so-called damage is done, is there any machinery to check that? Or do you act only when a certain news is disseminated and complaints are received?” the judges asked.

The HC went on to say that the media must keep in mind that a person’s reputation is not tarnished unduly.

“Media has fundamental right to freedom. But that cannot be used to infringe the rights of others. This cannot go unregulated,” it added.

ASG Singh said the Union government was of the same view and was “looking into what is needed to be done.”

Senior counsel Arvind Datar, who appeared for the National Broadcasters Association (a private body), said it did impose fine on several TV channels for objectionable reportage on Rajput’s death.

The arguments will continue on Monday.

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