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Frame comprehensive manual on media briefings by police on crime: Supreme Court to MHA

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to frame a comprehensive manual on media briefings by the police authorities in criminal cases to prevent media trials.

Observing that the existing guidelines on briefings were framed around a decade ago, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud said there has been an increase in reportage of criminal cases in print, electronic and social media.

The top court asked all the Directors General of Police (DGPs) of states to communicate their suggestions to the MHA within a month. The MHA has been directed to frame the guidelines after considering the views of state DGPs and other stakeholders within three months.

Underlining the right to press freedom as a facet of the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the SC observed that there is no “gainsaying of the fact” that both the media and consumers have a right to produce and receive fair and unbiased information.

However, the bench cautioned that at times, media reportage hampers the reputation of the accused and that biased reporting also gives rise to public suspicion about the crime. The CJI added that accused individuals are also entitled to fair and unbiased investigation and presumption of innocence.

The bench said that media reportage also “impinges upon the rights of victims and survivors of crime”. It underscored the need to ensure that disclosures made by police during media briefings are objective in nature and not subjective, having a bearing on guilt of the accused.The directions were passed on a petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties relating to police encounters. It might be mentioned here that a detailed judgment in this regard was passed in 2014. However, modalities to be followed by the police in conducting media briefings in pending criminal cases is under consideration before the SC. The SC also referred to Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act to observe that the manner in which the explanation has been incorporated may expose a publication to a charge of contempt “only after a charge sheet has been filed or cognizance taken or summons /warrants issued.”

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