Court on Its Motion v. State

With the increase in popularity of media and news channels, sting operations purported to be performed by news houses for "public benefit" at times tarnish the image of innocent persons. The same was the line of facts in this case. Read the case to learn how the High Court condemned such operations and gave a set of guidelines.
CITATION146 (2008) DLT 429
COURTHigh Court of Delhi
JUDGES/CORAMJustice M Sharma and Justice S Khanna
DATE OF JUDGEMENT14.12.2007

Introduction

The role of media involves uncovering callous and degenerate public servants to the eye of the omnipotent public in a democratic set-up and hence, undoubtedly, media is in its legitimate space while utilizing apparatuses of investigative journalism to make people familiar with the hideous underbelly of the society. This case gave a relishing judgment on sting operations conducted by the media personnel to showcase the truth of the corrupted personnel but also emphasized the grave responsibilities upon them to function as a media house.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Live India, a Television News Channel, aired a programme on 30.08.2007 regarding a sting operation conducted by them showing Ms. Uma Khurana, a teacher in a Delhi Government school, purportedly forcing a girl student into prostitution. Subsequent to the said telecast, aghast at the said act of the teacher, a crowd gathered at the school gate and started raising slogans demanding handing over of Ms. Uma Khurana to them.

In the commotion and mayhem that followed some persons physically attacked Ms. Uma Khurana and even tore her clothes. Shocked by the aforesaid incident and consequent to public outcry the Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi first suspended Ms. Khurana and later dismissed her from service, in exercise of special powers vested in the Government. Police also sprung into action and started investigation.

Later the aforementioned news item was published in the Hindustan Times on 07.09.2007 which indicated that there was something more to the whole string operation than what met the eyes. In the aforesaid news item it was stated that the girl who had been shown as a student who was allegedly being forced into prostitution by Ms. Uma Khurana was neither a school girl nor a prostitute but a budding journalist eager to make a name in the media world. As the matter was entailed by violence the Court after taking suo moto notice, issued notices to the Government of NCT of Delhi and the Delhi Police.

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After receiving the notice, Mr. Madhup Tewari, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime & Railways, Delhi Police, filed a status report on 10.09.2007 stating that one Mr. Virender Kumar, who had some monetary dispute with Ms. Uma Khurana, in connivance with one Mr.Prakash Singh, hatched a plan to trap Ms. Uma Khurana in a stage-managed act of forcing girls into prostitution. And the girl Rashmi Singh agreed to portray as a school student. Mr. Madhup Tewari filed another status report on 12.09.2007 wherein, in the penultimate paragraph, it was stated that the Additional Director, Education had been informed that Ms. Uma Khurana had not been found to be involved in any organized prostitution racket involving school girls as shown in the sting operation and that a part of the sting operation was stage managed.

Upon completion of the investigation, Police had also submitted charge sheet in the case. It was made clear by the Delhi Police that no concrete evidence was found against Ms. Uma Khurana to support the allegations of child prostitution made against her. Consequently, name of Ms. Uma Khurana had been cleared as no evidence was found by the Police which indicated that Ms. Uma Khurana was in any manner not involved with the alleged prostitution racket as tried to be projected through the aforesaid sting operation.

Ms. Rashmi Singh, who was shown with the accused in the sting operation, was charged with impersonation, criminal conspiracy and creating false evidence. Mr. Prakash Singh and Mr. Virender Kumar were also charged with similar accusations.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the power of media should be curtailed by imposing regulations and responsibilities to ensure that such misuse does not occur frequently.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The Court in this case covered the various aspects of the case and the roles and responsibilities of the Media Houses, which resulted in alteration of the rules governing the media houses by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to ensure that such incidents are not staged to ruin a person’s image and life. Some of the points of the report of the Ministry are as follows:

  1. The Media shall not 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. All television channels must ensure compliance with the Certification Rules prescribed under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995 and the Rules made there under
  5. Media shall not 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;
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Analysis

A sting operation is an investigative task undertaken by the media to uncover the malpractices prevalent in the society. It is now an inseparable part of the modern news casting albeit with questionable moral issues included.  The rightfulness of a sting operation cannot be determined objectively as a journalist may have a bias towards or against a certain person that he might target. In this era where video doctoring tools are easily accessible and popular, the question of legitimacy of the sting operation audio or video is yet another issue to pounder upon.

There are no directions regarding the test for legality of sting operations in India and there can be no nexus drawn between the judgments given by various courts addressing the issue.

The media personnel claim their powers mainly form Article 19(1)(a) which guarantees Freedom of speech and expression but unlike USA our Constitution does not expressly recognize the freedom of press; although few interpretations by the Supreme Court[1] have held it as a basic part of the aforementioned article.

The media has an incredible role to play as the fourth pillar of democracy, as was stated by the apex court in Sakal Papers Ltd. vs. Union of India[2] noting that ‘corruption cannot breed within the sight of transparency’.

Although the media shall be given powers and freedom in order to deliver exceptional work but such power shall not be handed over without any sanction meaning media shall also be regulated and checks on it shall also be exercised by the appropriate authority albeit such check should not take away its independent voice. Since there is no law that deals with admissibility of evidence procured through a sting operation; Court need to give less recognition to ‘factum of entrapment’ and alluring the suspect into confessing or narrating an offence when weighed against admissibility of evidences.

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Conclusion

A set of accepted rules and effective regulations is required. It is henceforth recommended that a sovereign quasi-judicial organization should be established that hold powers of both a regulating authority along with power to execute offenders.


[1] Indian Express v Union of India AIR 1986 SC 515; Romesh Thappar v Union of India AIR 1950 SC 124

[2] AIR 1962 SC 305.