SC Directs MHA to Frame Rules for Cop Press Briefings, Says ‘Disclosure Can’t Result in Media Trial’

'It should be ensured that the disclosure [of information] doesn't result in a media trial so as to allow pre-determination of the guilt of the accused,' the Supreme Court said. 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday (September 13) said that police briefings about crime investigations to the media must not result in a media trial and directed the home ministry to prepare a manual on police briefings within 90 days. 

The bench comprised of Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice P.S. Narasimha, and Justice Manoj Misra said that “it should be ensured that the disclosure [of information] doesn’t result in a media trial so as to allow pre-determination of the guilt of the accused.”

The apex court also directed Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states to submit their suggestions for the manual, adding that the input of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) would be considered in this matter, LiveLaw reported

CJI Chandrachud emphasised the growing significance of this issue and said, “Media trials are liable to result in a deflection of the course of justice by impacting upon the evidence which would be adduced and its assessment by the adjudicating authorities.”

He noted that the matter involved several layers of public interest, including the public’s right to know during an investigation, the potential impact of police disclosure on the investigation process, the rights of the accused, and the overall administration of justice. 

Also read: Backstory: All Media Trials Have a Secret Ingredient

The bench observed that the existing guidelines on the subject were prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs “over a decade ago on April 1, 2010” and added that “since then, with the upsurge in reporting on crimes not only in the print media but in the electronic and social media, it becomes extremely important that there should be there should be a standard operating procedure which balances out all the considerations.”

The court had earlier appointed senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan as an amicus curiae for assistance. Sankaranarayanan recommended that while the media cannot be restrained from reporting, the sources of information, which are often government entities, can be regulated. This approach aims to prevent multiple versions of events from being presented to the media, as has happened in previous cases, the LiveLaw report said.

“We cannot restrain the media from reporting. But the sources can be restrained. Because the source is the state. Even in the Aarushi case, so many versions were given to the media,” he said.

The senior advocate also submitted guidelines to be considered for the purpose of framing the manual. He said that the guidelines are based on the Media Relations Handbook of the Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) and the New York Police Department(NYPD), along with the Communications Advisory of the Association of Chief Police Officers of the UK, and even the CBI manual. 

Also read: Where Does Press Freedom End and Trial by Media Begin?

The Supreme Court’s order emphasised on the delicate balance between the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the rights of the accused to a fair investigation, and the privacy of victims.

 “Media reportage which implicates an accused is unfair. Biassed reporting also gives rise to public suspicion that the person has committed an offence. The media reports can also violate the privacy of victims,” the court observed in the order. 

The court also recognised that the nature of information disclosed to the media should be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, taking into account factors such as the age and gender of victims and accused individuals.

The case is scheduled for the next hearing in the second week of January, LiveLaw reported.