Court On Its Own Motion vs State
19. The duty of the press as the fourth pillar of democracy is immense. It has great power and with it comes increasing amounts of responsibility. No doubt the media is well within its rightful domain when it seeks to use tools of investigative journalism to bring us face to face with the ugly underbelly of the society. However, it is not permissible for the media to entice and try to actively induce an individual into committing an offence which otherwise he is not known and likely to commit. In such cases there is no predisposition. If one were to look into our mythology even a sage like Vishwamitra succumbed to the enchantment of “Maneka”. It would be stating the obvious that the Media is not to test individuals by putting them through what one might call the “inducement test” and portray it as a scoop that has uncovered a hidden or concealed truth. In such cases the individual may as well claim that the person offering inducement is equally guilty and a party to the crime, that he/she is being accused of. This would infringe upon the individual’s right to privacy. We believe and trust that all TV channels/Media shall take steps and prohibit its reporters from producing or airing any programme which is based on entrapment and which are fabricated, intrusive and sensitive. We also believe that responsible and senior TV journalists/reporters and editors who are involved in production and airing of programmes through electronic media should take steps for drawing up a self-regulatory code of conduct. The Press Council of India should also examine and can take initiative in this regard.
20. Certain proposed guidelines were also placed before us by the learned amicus. The said proposed guidelines are as follows:
1. A channel proposing to telecast a sting operation shall obtain a certificate from the person who recorded or produced the same certifying that the operation is genuine to his knowledge.
2. There must be concurrent record in writing of the various stages of the sting operation.
3. Permission for telecasting a sting operation be obtained from a committee appointed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The said committee will be headed by a retired High Court Judge to be appointed by the Government in consultation with the High Court & two members, one of which should be a person not below the rank of Additional Secretary and the second one being the Additional Commissioner of Police. Permission to telecast sting operation will be granted by the committee after satisfying itself that it is in public interest to telecast the same. This safeguard is necessary since those who mount a sting operation themselves commit the offences of impersonation, criminal trespass under false pretence and making a person commit an offence.
4. While the transcript of the recordings may be edited, the films and tapes themselves should not be edited. Both edited and unedited tapes be produced before the committee.
5. Sting operation shown on TV or published in print media should be scheduled with an awareness of the likely audience/reader in mind. Great care and sensitivity should be exercised to avoid shocking or offending the audience.
6. All television channels must ensure compliance with the Certification Rules prescribed under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995 and the Rules made thereunder.
7. The Chief Editor of the channel shall be made responsible for self-regulation and ensure that the programmes are consistent with the Rules and comply with all other legal and administrative requirements under various statutes in respect of content broadcast on the channel.
8. The subject matter of reports or current events shall not:
(a) Deliberately present as true any unverified or inaccurate facts so as to avoid trial by media since a “man is innocent till proven guilty by law”;
(b) Present facts and views in such a manner as is likely to mislead the public about their factual inaccuracy or veracity;
(c) Mislead the public by mixing facts and fiction in such a manner that the public are unlikely to be able to distinguish between the two;
(d) Present a distorted picture of reality by over-emphasizing or under-playing certain aspects that may trivialize or sensationalize the content;
(e) Make public any activities or material relating to an individual’s personal or private affairs or which invades an individual’s privacy unless there is an identifiable large public interest;
(f) Create public panic or unnecessary alarm which is likely to encourage or incite the public to crime or lead to disorder or be offensive to public or religious feeling.
9. Broadcasters/Media shall observe general community standards of decency and civility in news content, taking particular care to protect the interest and sensitivities of children and general family viewing.
10. News should be reported with due accuracy. Accuracy requires the verification (to the fullest extent possible) and presentation of all facts that are necessary to understand a particular event or issue.
11. Infringement of privacy in a news-based/related programme is a sensitive issue. Therefore, greater degree of responsibility should be exercised by the channels while telecasting any such programmes, as may be breaching privacy of individuals.
12. Channels must not use material relating to persons’ personal or private affairs or which invades an individual’s privacy unless there is identifiable larger public interest reason for the material to be broadcast or published.
21. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is already examining whether a statute and/or a code of conduct should be enacted. The above-proposed guidelines should be considered by the concerned Ministry and if they find favor, they may be incorporated in the enactment/guidelines, with modifications as deemed fit and proper.
22. In terms of the aforesaid observations, we discharge the notices suo moto issued by us to the State. The petition stands disposed of.