The Supreme Court has directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to create a comprehensive manual outlining guidelines for police media briefings in criminal cases. This decision aims to curb media trials, considering the proliferation of criminal case reporting in various media forms.
The Court emphasized that existing guidelines, established a decade ago, are outdated and need revision due to changes in the media landscape and practices. It outlined that factors like the accused's age, gender, and crime nature should determine information disclosed to media outlets.
The Court stated, "Media trial leads to deflection from the course of justice. Bearing these aspects, we believe that the Home Ministry should prepare a comprehensive manual on media briefings by police personnel."
The Court called upon Directors General of Police (DGPs) from states to share their views with the MHA within one month. The MHA is tasked with drafting these guidelines after incorporating feedback from state DGPs and stakeholders, with a three-month completion period.
While recognizing the freedom of the press as part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the Court highlighted that both media and consumers have the right to unbiased information. However, it also underscored the importance of unbiased investigations and the presumption of innocence for accused individuals.
The Court pointed out that media reports can harm an accused's reputation, create public suspicion, and infringe on victims' rights, particularly in cases involving minors or gender-based violence. The Court directed that police disclosures during media briefings should be objective, avoiding prejudgment of the accused's guilt.
This order follows a petition by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) regarding police encounters. While a detailed judgment on the main issue was given in 2014, the Court is currently deliberating on protocols for police media briefings in pending criminal cases.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, the amicus curiae, emphasized that police disclosures about investigations impact victims' and accused rights and the rule of law.
Author: Anushka Taraniya
News Writer, MIT ADT University