The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the government if excessive reportage can hinder justice. The court asked the Centre to clarify if "excessive" reportage on an ongoing investigation can interfere in justice under the Contempt of Courts Act.
The bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni asked the Centre to submit its reply by November 6. It asked the government to elaborate if the court should lay guidelines for the same.
"If there is excessive reporting, that can put an accused on guard, and he may resort to destroying evidence or absconding. Or if that person is actually innocent, the excessive media reporting can damage his reputation," it said adding that the court does not want the media to cross its boundaries and it would also like to remain within its own boundaries. It also asked the government if it thought the high court has the jurisdiction to frame guidelines.
"Whether excessive reporting by media in an ongoing investigation amounts to interference in administration of justice under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act and should we lay guidelines? This is the issue before us," it said.
It also asked the government's counsel, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, to consider scenarios where such reportage on an ongoing probe, where a charge sheet was yet to be filed, influenced the investigating officer, or resulted in a witness being threatened.
"If media identifies that a person is a very vital witness, he could be won over, threatened, or he could be even physically harmed so that he does not give evidence," it said.
On the possibility of the press influencing an investigating officer, the HC said, "Think of a police officer. Can anyone guarantee that he will not be influenced?" It said that the officer might be following a particular track but under the influence of the media could change its track and round up an innocent person. It also pointed out that the media could malign an officer if he is competent and doe not get influenced by reports.
The court was hearing final arguments on a bunch of public interest litigations seeking that the media trial in the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death be stopped.