NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court Friday said certain media coverage of investigation in the FIR against climate activist Disha Ravi for her alleged involvement in sharing a toolkit backing farmers’ protest indicates “sensationalism and prejudicial reporting”, but declined to order removal of any such content at this stage.
Justice Prathiba M Singh said the interim plea for removal of such news content and tweets by Delhi Police would be considered at a later stage.
The court, however, asked media houses to ensure that no leaked investigation material is broadcast as it could affect the probe and directed Delhi Police to abide by its stand on affidavit that it has not leaked nor intends to leak any probe details to the press.
The court also said that police would be entitled to hold press briefings in the matter in accordance with the law and the agency’s 2010 office memorandum with regard to media coverage of cases.
To media houses, the court said they should ensure the information received from their sources is authentic and only verified content ought to be publicised as also that the investigation is not hampered.
The court was hearing Ravi’s plea to restrain police from leaking to the media any probe material in relation to the FIR lodged against her.
The petition also sought to restrain the media from publishing the content or extract of any private chats, including those on WhatsApp, between her and third parties.
The police, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, placed an affidavit before the court categorically denying leaking of any information to the media.
It also assured the court that it has no intention of leaking any information to the media.
The ASG during the hearing said that the possibility of leakage by some officer of the agency cannot be ruled out entirely.
The court however directed that the police has to abide by its affidavit.
The media houses, one of them represented by advocate Mrinal Bharti, told the court that the source of information in the present case was the Delhi Police and its tweets.
ASG Chetan Sharma and central government standing counsel Ajay Digpaul, appearing for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, told the court that the petition was not maintainable as no complaint was first made to it for taking action against any TV channel or media house for any alleged incorrect reporting of the case.
The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) told the court that it can take any action only if a complaint is made to it regarding the media houses named in the plea.
It further told the court that media houses named in the plea were members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA).
Ravi, in her plea, has said she is “severely aggrieved and prejudiced by the media trial surrounding her arrest and the ongoing investigation, where she is being viscerally attacked by the respondent 1 (police) and several media houses”.
She has claimed that her arrest from Bengaluru on February 13 by a Cyber Cell team of Delhi Police was “wholly unlawfully and without basis”.
She has also contended that in the present circumstances, it was “highly likely” that the general public will perceive the news items “as being conclusive as to the guilt of the petitioner (Ravi)”.
“In these circumstances, and to restrain the respondents from further violating her privacy, her reputation, and her right to a fair trial, the petitioner is moving the present petition,” the plea has said.
Her petition has alleged that investigative matters have been leaked to the media and the press briefings by the police are “prejudicial” and “grossly violative of her right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence”.
It has claimed that the police first “leaked investigative material” — like alleged WhatsApp chats — the substance and details of which were only in the possession of the investigating agency.
Thereafter, the “private alleged WhatsApp chats” were published and disseminated by various media houses which was a violation of the provisions of the Cable Televisions Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (CTN Act), the Programme Code and the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines, the petition has contended.
It has also claimed that the “media houses have published one-sided defamatory, suggestive innuendos, and half truths about the petitioner”.
Ravi’s plea has further contended that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the NBSA “have failed to exercise their statutory and self-regulatory powers in ensuring compliance with the Programme Code under the CTN Act and the Code of Ethics of National Broadcasting Standards Association”.
Delhi Police, probing the “toolkit Google doc” backing the farmers’ agitation shared by climate activist Greta Thunberg, had arrested Ravi while Mumbai lawyer Jacob and Pune engineer Shantanu Muluk have been granted pre-arrest bail by court.
A Delhi court had on February 14 sent Ravi to five- day police custody after it said her custodial interrogation was required to probe an alleged larger conspiracy against the government of India and to ascertain her alleged role relating to the Khalistan movement.
A toolkit is a document created to explain any issue.
It also provides information on what one needs to do to address the issue.
This might include information about petitions, details about protests and mass movements.
The Cyber Cell had lodged an FIR against “pro-Khalistan” creators of the toolkit for waging a “social, cultural and economic war against the government of India”.