The Delhi high court (HC) on Monday sought the response of Republic TV, its editor-in-chief (EiC) Arnab Goswami; Times Now, its group editor Navika Kumar, and others in a plea filed by 34 leading Bollywood producers and four industry associations seeking restrain on the content broadcast by the two TV news channels in the Central agencies’ probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher also directed that the defendants—the channels and their anchors—ensure that no defamatory content is be displayed or uploaded on their social media accounts against the plaintiffs, including production houses owned by actors Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Anil Kapoor, and directors Farhan Akhtar, Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty, Vinod Chopra, and Ashutosh Gowarikar etc.
“Defendants (channels and anchors) will ensure that no defamatory content is uploaded on their social media platforms or displayed on their channels,” justice Shakdher said.
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“The counsel of the defendants (channels) has also assured me that they will follow the programme code and the rules framed under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995,” he added
The court said that there should be free and fair reportage coupled with neutrality.
Justice Shakdher cited pre-cable TV days and said the content,which was broadcast on public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD), was much better.
The judge suggested “toning down” of the content while remarking that “it seems that the news channels are not following the programme codes”.
He said: “You are pre-judging issues and something has to be done about that…It is disheartening and demoralising for everyone…In normal ways, till the charge sheet is not filed, we do not even name the person and refer him/her as the person of interest. But now, the name of the person and every detail is being given out even before the charge sheet is filed.”
He referred to an incident that took place 15 years ago and said that a news channel had aired a report about a teacher showing some obscene material to her class and almost getting lynched because of it.
The high court judge who heard the case, and is since retired, was disturbed by the turn of events.
“Trained minds who deal with these issues on a regular basis get affected,” the judge said.
“You need to tell me, how do we deal with this? How can we resolve the issues?” the judge asked. He said that he was amazed at the backgrounds of the broadcasters and their inflammatory content.
“You represent the fourth estate. People are scared of you. No one wants to have their private life to be dragged in public domain. The privacy gets diluted,” he said, while referring to Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while trying to escape paparazzi.
The judge also expressed concern about the kind of language being used on TV channels as participants in debates have been found to use cuss words.
The next hearing of the case is on December 14.
The 1,069-page petition said the impact of the “wrongs of the defendants” was felt prominently in the national capital, and as a result legal action had been initiated in the Delhi high court.
According to the petition filed in the court, “They [the channels] are targeting specific individuals with the malicious intention of damaging their reputation in the eyes of the public, invading the private lives of various persons in the industry and dragging their personal lives into the public domain, and trying to show it in a completely false light across the board.”
“By their words, actions and publications the defendants, are adversely impacting the right to a fair trial in these cases where several persons from Bollywood may be called as witnesses and some may even be prosecuted as accused,” it added.
The petitioners sought directions against Republic TV, its EiC Goswami and consulting editor Pradeep Bhandari; Times Now, its editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar, and group editor Kumar along with various social media websites.
Earlier, Shivshankar and Kumar had said they did nothing wrong.
“Cases against journalists of Times Now that have only sought justice for those who are wronged are a bad precedent…,” Shivshankar had tweeted.
“If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on… Let the truth prevail,” Kumar had tweeted on October 12.
The Film & Television Producers Guild Of India (PGI), The Cine & TV Artistes’ Association (CINTAA), Indian Film and TV Producers Council (IFTPC), Screenwriters Association (SWA), Aamir Khan Productions, Ad-Labs Films, Ajay Devgn Flims, Andolan Films, Anil Kapoor Film and Communication Network, Arbaaz Khan Productions, Ashutosh Gowariker Productions, BSK Network and Entertainment, Cape of Good Films, Clean Slate Filmz, Dharma Productions, Emmay Entertainment & Motion Pictures, Excel Entertainment , Filmkraft Productions, Hope Production, Kabir Khan Films, Luv Films, Macguffin Pictures, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, One India Stories, RS Entertainment (Ramesh Sippy Entertainment),Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Pictures, Red Chillies Entertainment, Reel Life Productions, Reliance Big Entertainment, Rohit Shetty Picturez, Roy Kapur Films, Salman Khan Films, Sikhya Entertainment, Sohail Khan Productions, Tiger Baby Digital, Vinod Chopra Films, Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures and Yashraj Films are the four industry associations and 34 leading Bollywood producers, respectively, who moved the high court.