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Prepare guidelines on media briefing by police personnel, Supreme Court to Union home ministry

Noting that while dealing with a criminal case there cannot be uniform guidelines on media briefing, the Supreme Court directs the Union ministry of home to prepare comprehensive guidelines on media briefing by police personnel doing criminal investigation.

THE Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) to prepare comprehensive guidelines on media briefing by police personnel of criminal investigation in progress.  

Observing that media trials affect the administration of justice, a Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and Manoj Misra passed an Order to this effect.

The Bench directed the MHA to come up with the guidelines within three months.

The Bench also directed the director general of police (DGP) of every state to send their suggestions to the MHA.

The Bench observed that there could be no gainsaying in the fact that media has fundamental right of freedom and expression and consumers have the right of views, fair and unbiased news.

But equally important is the presumption of innocence, which an accused is entitled to enjoy during an investigation.

The Bench, however, noted that the nature of the disclosure could not be uniform since it must depend upon the nature of the crime and the participating stakeholders, including victims, witnesses and accused.

The Bench was of the view that disclosure of an official version of investigation would limit speculation on crime reporting and protect the interests of the accused, witnesses and victims.

Notice taken by the Supreme Court in 2017

On March 29, 2017, the Supreme Court took note of the office memorandum of the government of India dated April 1, 2010 on media briefing.  

The court was then of the view that the memorandum required to be updated appropriately.

It had directed the government of India to prepare a fresh memorandum of police guidelines on “media briefings”.

The direction was to ensure that rights of the accused to take proper defence are not prejudiced during the course of trial, and on the other hand to also ensure that the rights of the victims are not unfairly compromised. 

Amicus curiae Gopal Sankaranarayanan also submitted his suggestions to the court.

The MHA, in 2010 had issued an advisory on Media Policy of Police to all states and Union territories outlining the procedures to be followed while briefing the media. It contains fifteen point guidelines on steps to be taken for media briefing by the police.

Since  “police” and “public order” are state subjects as per the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, many states are said to not have been cooperating with the Union government in preparing the uniform guidelines.

Click here to read the Order.