The Delhi High Court on Friday said that Republic TV news channel’s right to air stories on the death of Sunanda Pushkar cannot be curbed, but it has to be “tempered and balanced”, and that Congress MP Shashi Tharoor cannot be “compelled to speak”.
The court also came down on the media, saying it cannot “convict anyone” or insinuate that someone is guilty or make any other “unsubstantiated claims”, while reporting on matters under investigation or pending trial.
Justice Manmohan directed that before airing any story pertaining to Tharoor, the news channel shall give him a written notice, by electronic mode, asking for his version.
“If the plaintiff (Tharoor) refuses or does not reply within a reasonable time, he will not be compelled to speak and the story will be aired with the disclosure that the plaintiff has refused to speak to the defendants (channel),” said the court.
The order came on three applications in a defamation suit filed by Tharoor claiming Rs 2 crore damages from journalist Arnab Goswami and his news channel Republic TV for allegedly making defamatory remarks against him with regard to the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar.
The court said that “every individual/accused has a right to silence”.
Under the Indian Constitution, no person can be compelled to give testimony or answer questions which may incriminate him, said the court, adding, “Undoubtedly, an individual affected by the story must be given an option to give his version, but he cannot be compelled to speak, if he does not want to.”
The “culture of thrusting a microphone” in the face of a person needs to be deprecated, said Justice Manmohan.
“This Court is of the view that it is important that when criminal investigation has commenced, media reporting should be sensitive to the indeterminacy of the questions raised in the proceedings. Press cannot ‘convict anyone’ or insinuate that he/she is guilty or make any other unsubstantiated claims. Press has to exercise care and caution while reporting about matters under investigation or pending trial,” the order stated.
Republic TV had aired what it called an expose in the death of Pushkar, playing tapes of a conversation between a reporter and Tharoor’s assistant Narayan on the night of Pushkar’s death. Pushkar was found dead in a five-star hotel in south Delhi on the night of January 17, 2014.
On May 29 this year, the court had said that the journalist and his channel can air stories by stating the facts related to the investigation into the death of Pushkar, but cannot call him a “criminal”.
“You cannot call him names. Bring down the rhetoric,” it had told the journalist and channel.
Tharoor in his defamation suit had said that on May 6, when the channel was launched, it has been airing 3-5 hours long news shows every day entirely on the case of Pushkar’s death and making defamatory statements against him.
Tharoor, in his suit, had said he has suffered humiliation and severe loss of reputation in the eyes of the public.
The plea said that Tharoor has been baselessly declared by the channel as the alleged murderer of his late wife, and sought a permanent injunction against the channel from reporting or broadcasting any news regarding Pushkar’s death until investigations are complete.