NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Tuesday took strong note of media reporting in the Rewari gangrape case, asking why no action has been taken against media houses for flouting the law as "everything has been said" about the 19-year-old victim.
"Where should we draw the line. We are concerned about the identity of the victim," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said and asked where should the line be drawn.
The apex court made the observations while dealing with a plea challenging a Patna High Court order restraining the media from reporting on the probe into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case where several women were allegedly raped and sexually abused over time.
Asking where was the question of "anonymity" in such a situation, the bench said "there are certain problems. Recently, there is a case of a girl being raped in Rewari (in Haryana). They (media) say that she was a topper in CBSE exam. Topper means one person, not 20 people. So identifying her is not a problem."
"Secondly, I have seen on TV channels that they (media) have talked to her father. The camera was placed behind the father. But in front of him, there are 50 people standing who are from the village. So they know who she is."
"In a situation like this, where is the question of anonymity," Justice Lokur asked senior lawyer Shekhar Naphade, who was appearing for the petitioner. Naphade said anything which discloses the identity of the victim has to be stopped and "the dignity of the person has to be protected".
To this, the bench said "but there are live instances of flouting of section 228-A (dealing with disclosure of identity of such victims) of the IPC".
When a counsel said the news broadcasting authority already existed, the bench asked "have these TV channels been hauled up? We are giving you instances of yesterday. Tell us how to stop it."
When the bench asked Attorney General K K Venugopal about media reporting in Rewari case, the top law officer said that such channels could be prosecuted by state.
"For law and order, the state is responsible. Once this is brought to your notice, the court can also issue notice asking the state what action they have taken in this. TV channels can also be asked to respond to this. It will have a reformatory measure," the Attorney General said.
During the hearing, Naphade said the court should pass directions in this regard and any breach or violation would constitute contempt.
"You will have to create such a structure where accountability has to be fixed. We have to identify the authority. In case of TV, it has to be the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Some mechanism has to be there," he told the bench.
To this, the bench asked "what action the Press Council of India (PCI) has taken in the Rewari case?" Naphade said it was "unfortunate" that no action has been taken yet in the matter against media.
Advocate Aparna Bhat, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, said the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act says that state could initiate prosecution in such cases but no action has been taken yet.
When Naphade said that magistrate's could take cognisance on their own in such matters, the bench said "the magistrates are already overloaded with work".
The senior counsel then said that a "social engineering" was needed to deal with the issue and he would give suggestions as to how to proceed in such matters.
However, the amicus said that media has been playing a critical role in unearthing such cases and what was required to be cured was "sensationalism" by the media.
"We are also concerned about the identity of the victim. In Rewari case, apart from giving the name of the girl, everything has been said. Where should we draw the line," the bench said.
The court posted the matter for further hearing on September 20.
It also made it clear that the high court's August 23 order restraining the media would not apply to the proceedings pending before the top court.
The plea, challenging the high court order restraining the media, has been filed by a Patna-based journalist through advocate Fauzia Shakil.
The plea, which has sought a stay on the operation of the high court's order, has alleged that the order was "patently erroneous" as it amounted to imposing a "blanket ban" on the media reporting in the shelter home case.