No Blanket Ban On Reporting Of Sex Abuse Cases: SC

NEW DELHI — There is “no mechanism” to enforce and implement legal provisions and guidelines on media reporting on rape and sexual abuse cases, the Supreme Court said Thursday while calling for a balance between the criminal justice system and freedom of the press.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, which observed that there cannot be a blanket ban on media reporting of such cases, was told that guidelines and statutory provisions were being “routinely violated” as the press was doing “media trial”. The bench, in the “interest of all victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence”, restrained the electronic media from telecasting or broadcasting their images in a morphed or blurred form.

It also asked the media not to interview such victims and said the news of the events may be broadcast by the media keeping in mind the interest of the victims, which should be of concern.

“We also request the print media and the electronic media not to sensationalize such events,” it said and posted the matter for hearing on October 4.

Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for a scribe who has challenged a Patna High Court order banning the media from reporting on the probe into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, said there were guidelines and statutory provisions under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Contempt of Courts Act.

He said these guidelines and provisions were violated in the sense that a probe was conducted independently by the media, which sometimes also carried out trial and gave its judgement in the form of conclusions arrived at by them.

“It appears that there is no mechanism for enforcement and implementation of the statutory provisions and guidelines,” the bench said. “In the absence of any mechanism, it is possible that there could be some mis-reporting and some persons who are not involved in an offence may be mistakenly taken as accused of an offence by the media.

The entire issue needs to be balanced and looked at in the broader view of criminal justice and freedom of the Press,” the apex court said.

“For this purpose, we would need the assistance of the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Editors Guild and the Indian Broadcasting Federation. Accordingly, notice be issued to them returnable on October 4,” it said.

The court vacated the high court’s August 23 order with regard to media reporting in the Muzaffarpur case. “However, we expect the print and electronic media to be responsible and circumspect in the matter of reporting of the incidents that have taken place in Muzaffarpur as well as the investigations that have been carried out. This is in the interest of the minor victims,” it said.

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