Journalists are free to investigate but can’t pronounce anyone guilty, rules Delhi HC

Journalists are free to investigate but can’t pronounce anyone guilty, rules Delhi HC

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Saturday refused to grant an injunction in the plea by Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor against allegedly defamatory reporting on Sunanda Pushkar’s death by Republic TV and its star anchor Arnab Goswami.

The Single Judge Bench of Justice Manmohan held that:

“Irrespective of the style of reporting and the remarks made, this Court is prima facie of the view that reporting in the present matter is a case of legitimate investigative journalism as even three and a half years after the death of Ms. Sunanda Pushkar, wife of a then sitting Union Minister, no charge-sheet has been filed.”

Tharoor had filed a petition against Goswami and his channel seeking compensation and damages from him for making defamatory remarks. He also asked for a prohibitory injunction restraining the defendants from reporting any news related to the death of Sunanda Pushkar till the investigation is complete.

The Court, during earlier hearings, had asked Goswami to tone down the rhetoric and had stated that any person, including an accused, has a right to silence.

Appearing for Tharoor, Senior Counsel and fellow Congress leader Salman Khurshid argued that the defendants had neither regretted nor taken back the allegations made over such a long period of time.

He stated that Tharoor does not seek a blanket gag order, but wants relief restraining the defendants from making any defamatory allegations, insinuations, opinions and casting aspersions in relation to the death of his wife, which is under investigation.

Representing Goswami, Senior Advocate Sandeep Sethi contended that Tharoor had handpicked and selectively quoted the allegedly defamatory remarks without providing context.

He further stated that Tharoor harboured personal animosity against Goswami since 2010, as the latter had probed the alleged misuse of office by Tharoor with regard to the Kochi franchise of the Indian Premier League.

The Court, while refusing to stop the media house from airing stories relating to the mysterious death of Pushkar, observed that the presumption of innocence and a fair trial are at the heart of criminal jurisprudence.

“Journalists are free to investigate but they cannot pronounce anyone guilty and/or pre judge the issue and/or prejudice the trial. The grant of the fairest of the opportunity to the accused to prove his innocence is the object of every fair trial.”

The Court further observed that every individual/accused has a right to silence under the Constitution, and that no person can be compelled to give testimony or answer questions that may lead to incrimination.

“The ‘culture of thrusting a microphone’ in the face of a person needs to be deprecated.”

The Court also took note of Tharoor’s famous tweet wherein he had described Goswami as an ‘unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist‘. In response to this tweet, Goswami had called Tharoor an ‘unprincipled criminal masquerading as a politician’. On a lighter note, the Court stated,

“TV viewers who want to watch action films should not watch TV debates on current affairs on the ground that it contains more action and violence than any action film.”

Finally, the Court asked the news channel to give Tharoor a written notice asking for his version, before airing any stories pertaining to him. If he refuses or does not reply within a reasonable time, he should not be compelled to speak and the story should be aired with a disclosure that the he has refused to speak to the channel.