Law

Disha Ravi Plea: Delhi HC Says Media Can't 'Sensationalise', Urges Caution With Info

The environmental activist in a petition had alleged that 'India Today', 'Times Now' and 'News 18' had carried out a "one-sided" coverage fuelled by information given to them by Delhi Police.

New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Friday, February 19, observed that reporting by some media houses into the arrest of climate activist Disha Ravi in connection with the “toolkit” case has been sensational.

Looking into a plea filed by Ravi on Thursday, February 18, seeking to restrain police from leaking to the media any material in relation to the FIR lodged against her, Justice Pratibha Singh said, “Right to privacy, the sovereignty and integrity of the country and the freedom of speech need to be balanced.”

Ravi’s plea had also alleged that India Today, Times Now and News 18 have carried out “one-sided” reports, reporting on various aspects of her role in editing the ‘toolkit’, chats between her and climate activist Greta Thunberg, and even her answers during police questioning.

Justice Singh instructed the said channels to exercise proper editorial control while disseminating information, without hampering the probe, LiveLaw reported.

Ravi’s lawyer, Akhil Sibal, alleged that the Delhi Police had leaked investigation material pertaining to the activist.

In response, the Delhi Police in an affidavit said that it had not leaked, nor does it intend to leak any information concerning the probe. While ordering the Delhi Police to abide by its affidavit, Justice Singh instructed the media not to broadcast any leaked information.

The court further said the police would be entitled to hold press briefings in the matter in accordance with the law and the 2010 Advisory on Media Policy of Police.

The Delhi Police has been regularly holding press conferences on its investigations into this ‘toolkit‘ – an online document supporting farmers, initially shared by Thunberg – positing it as tell-all evidence that proves a conspiracy behind the farmers’ protest. However, why this easily accessible document would amount to a conspiracy and sedition are unclear.

Also read: Disha Ravi’s Arrest Is Yet Another Example of Police’s Disregard for Checks and Balances

To the 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.

“While a journalist cannot be asked to reveal their source, the same has to be authentic. The Delhi Police claims that it has not leaked anything whereas the media claims to the contrary,” LiveLaw quoted the Justice Singh as saying.

“While press briefings are held generally the media cannot disseminate the information in such a sensationalised manner,” the Justice added.

The court, as quoted in a report by Indian Express, said the recent coverage in the case “definitely shows there is sensationalism and prejudicial journalism which is being undertaken by the media houses”.

However, the court turned down Ravi’s plea that an interim stay be ordered on channels to keep them from reporting on the case. It also directed Disha Ravi to not “malign” the Delhi Police and other authorities.

‘Subversion of justice’

Ravi’s lawyer, Akhil Sibal, alleged that the channels in question should desist from broadcasting purported WhatsApp chats between her client, Ravi, and Greta Thunberg.

Specifically, he said News18 had gone into detailed particulars of what questions were purportedly posed to Ravi and what answers she purportedly gave. On the other hand, India Today, he said had run more detailed statements with “in-built” commentary.

“The narrative is that she panicked and tried to delete – all based on leaked material and details. Half-baked, speculative information about an ongoing investigation was being disseminated,” Ravi’s lawyer alleged, according to LiveLaw.in.

Sibal said as the stage of arrest was over and the investigation is underway, a final report will come out soon, and there is no reason to share anything pertaining to the case. “Hence, I seek relief,” he submitted to the court.

He also asked the court to direct the Delhi Police not to release any information or case file to the media until a chargesheet is filed. He also submitted to the court that, among others, Delhi Police in a press conference on February 15 had said “highly incriminating evidence was found”, and Ravi had “coaxed Greta Thunberg to post the same”.

“The police or any other agency cannot use the media till the investigation is pending to subvert the process of justice, as this would weaken the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused,” he noted.