A day after three news channels got notice over activist Disha Ravi’s petition – linked to the coverage of her arrest in a case related to the farmers’ protest toolkit shared by Swedish teen climate crusader Greta Thunberg earlier this month – the Delhi High Court today made observations about “sensationalism” in reporting.
The High Court asked Delhi Police to stick to the stand that it hasn’t leaked details while the reporters were asked to ensure the “probe is not hampered”. At the same time, Ms Ravi, 22, has been “directed to ensure that there is no indulgence to malign the police and other authorities”.
In her petition, the activist had sought action against three news channels – News 18, India Today, and Times Now – for publishing contents of her alleged private chats, thereby violating Cable TV Network rules
“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,” the court observed today.
“Half-baked, speculative information about an ongoing investigation was being disseminated,” lawyer Akhil Sibal, appearing for the environmental activist, told the court even as the Delhi Police maintained that no private chats were leaked.
“Right to privacy, the sovereignty and integrity of the country and the freedom of speech need to be balanced. The recent coverage definitely shows there is sensationalised reporting by the media. While press briefings are held generally, media cannot disseminate the information in such a sensationalised manner,” the High Court said.
The news channels have been told to “ensure that proper editorial control is exercised while disseminating information to ensure investigation is not hampered”.
“Time would be needed to be given to all respondents to file detailed replies,” the court said.
Ms Ravi had moved the High Court seeking directions to the police to not leak investigation material, including alleged contents of her private chats, to the media. The 22-year-old had also said the police “did not obtain any transit remand, nor did they permit the petitioner to consult with a lawyer”.
“Surprisingly, there was significant media coverage of the petitioner’s remand hearing and the media seemed to have more knowledge about the time and venue of the petitioner’s production than her lawyers,” her petition said.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Suryaprakash V Raju today said Ms Ravi was “defaming and vilifying the police to put pressure” on the cops, stressing that the petition “is a systematic attempt to blame the police and derail investigation.”
“The police or any other agency cannot use the media till investigation is pending to subvert the process of justice, as this would weaken the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused,” Mr Sibal countered.
Ms Ravi’s arrest had triggered widespread condenmnation from the opposition leaders and farmers who have been agitating against three new agricultural laws near Delhi’s borders since late November.
She and two other activists – Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk – held a Zoom meeting before the Republic Day to plan a social media buzz on the tractor rally, which descended into violence, police said earlier this week.
On Sunday, the police alleged that Disha Ravi was a key conspirator and in an attempt to revive a Khalistani group, prepared and spread the Toolkit. “I did not make the Toolkit. We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on February 3,” Disha Ravi had told a Delhi court.
“Disha Ravi has been arrested after following all due processes. Whether someone is 22 or 50 years old, law treats everyone equally. The court was in agreement with the decision to arrest her… and, hence, we were given the remand for five days,” Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava told reporters on Tuesday amid outrage.