'Airing private WhatsApp messages of accused dangerous for justice,' says govt to SC

Attorney General KK Venugopal has told the Supreme Court that it is important to strike a balance between freedom of speech and contempt of court. ...

Attorney General KK Venugopal has told the Supreme Court that it is important to strike a balance between freedom of speech and contempt of court. He said that the media was moving towards the “forbidden territory”. Referring to the reportage on Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the AG pointed out that airing private WhatsApp conversations of an accused is prejudicial. He also said that the media also published reports on hearings of big cases and advised the Supreme Court to meet public expectations, all of which is forbidden.

Addressing the court on larger issues arising from decade-old contempt proceedings against Prashant Bhushan for stating that half of the past CJIs were corrupt in an interview in Tehelka, Venugopal said that that the abuse of freedom of speech has taken “serious proportions” today. This comment also mirrors CJI SA Bobde’s comment during a petition hearing last week that freedom of speech is the most abused freedom.

Venugopal told a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, “A bail petition is filed in a court of law and TV channels go to town with private WhatsApp conversation messages of the accused. This is prejudicial to the rights of the accused and is very dangerous for the administration of justice” — in what appears to be reportage on Rajput’s death case.

The AG also said that whenever a big case is due for hearing before the Supreme Court, big articles are published as advisories to the court. “The (authors of the) articles also advise the Supreme Court what decisions would meet the public expectations. All these are forbidden. These issues need to be discussed,” he said.

Talking about media reporting in the Tablighi Jamaat case, CJI Bobde had earlier said, “Freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms in recent times.” The court had also slammed the Centre for defending the media and saying that no instance of bad reporting was done in that case. “You cannot treat this court the way you are treating it. Some junior officer has filed the affidavit. Your affidavit is evasive and says petitioner shows no instance of bad reporting. You may not agree but how you can say there is no instance of bad reporting shown,” the Chief Justice had said during the hearing.

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