Supreme Court asks MHA to prepare guidelines on media briefing by police personnel

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Supreme Court has passed this direction while observing that disclosure of an official version of investigation would limit speculation on crime reporting and protect the interests of the accused, witnesses and victims

A CJI DY Chandrachud led bench of the Supreme Court has today issued directions to the Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare comprehensive guidelines for media briefings by the police.

These guidelines are to be prepared within a period of three months.

The bench also comprising Justice PS Narasimha and Justice Manoj Misra has further directed Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states to submit their suggestions for the said manual. 

Court has noted that the nature of the disclosure could not be uniform since it would depend upon the nature of the crime and the participating stakeholders, including victims, witnesses and accused.

Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who was earlier appointed an amicus curiae, submitted his own guidelines to be considered for the purpose of framing the manual by MHA. He informed the bench that he has taken references from the Media Relations Handbook of the Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) and the New York Police Department(NYPD), along with the Communications Advisory of the Association of Chief Police Officers of the UK.

Emphasizing on the balance between fundamental right to free speech and expression of the media and the rights of the accused to a fair investigation, and privacy of victims, the Supreme Court observed today that "biased reporting gives rise to public suspicion that the person has committed an offence. The media reports can also violate the privacy of victims".

The bench went on to add that police disclosure should not result in media trial so as to allow pre-determination of guilt of an accused.

In the instant matter, two issues were being dealt with. The first relating to procedures to be followed by the police in the event of encounters was already considered way back in 2014 and today, the issue of protocols for police when conducting media briefings during ongoing criminal investigations was undertaken.

Case Title: PUCL vs. State of Maharashtra