New Delhi, Dec 1: The Delhi High Court refused to restrain journalist Arnab Goswami and his Republic TV from airing news or debates relating to the mysterious death of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor's wife Sunanda Pushkar but said it has to be "tempered and balanced".
The high court also held that Tharoor has a "right to silence" under the Constitution and "no person can be compelled to give testimony or answer questions which may incriminate him". Justice Manmohan, who delivered a 61-page judgement, said before airing any story on Pushkar's death, the channel should give Tharoor a written notice, by electronic mode, seeking his version.
"If the plaintiff (Tharoor) refuses or does not reply within a reasonable time, he will not be compelled to speak and the story will be aired with the disclosure that he has refused to speak to the defendants (TV channel and Goswami)," the court said.
The court disposed of three applications filed by Tharoor seeking to restrain the TV channel and Goswami from airing news regarding his wife's death till the pendency of the proceedings before the trial court here. He has also sought a direction to the journalist and the news channel that they should not mention the expression "murder of Sunanda Pushkar" anywhere, as it is yet to to established by a competent court that her death was "murder" to ensure that the trial is not prejudiced.
The applications were filed in Tharoor's Rs two crore defamation suit against Goswami and the channel for allegedly making defamatory remarks against him while airing news relating to the mysterious death of his wife. The pending suit is listed for further proceedings before the Joint Registrar on January 18 next year. Goswami and the channel had contended that they have been cautious and have never imputed that the Congress leader is guilty in the case.
Pushkar was found dead in a suite of a five-star hotel in south Delhi on the night of January 17, 2014 under mysterious circumstances. Dealing with Tharoor's applications which was opposed by the TV channel, Justice Manmohan discussed domestic and foreign laws and judgements to conclude that in the present case, an interlocutory injunction cannot be granted at this prima facie stage to restrain publication.
"Keeping in view the aforesaid mandate of law and the prima facie findings, this court is of the opinion that in the present case the defendants have the right to air their stories and the same cannot be curbed, but it has to be tempered and balanced," the court said. It also observed that an individual affected by the story must be given an option to give his version, but he cannot be compelled to speak if he does not want to. "The culture of thrusting a microphone in the face of a person needs to be deprecated," it said.
The court also observed that it is important that when criminal investigation has commenced, media reporting should be sensitive to the indeterminacy of the questions raised in the proceedings. "Press cannot convict anyone or insinuate that he/she is guilty or make any other unsubstantiated claims. Press has to exercise care and caution while reporting about matters under investigation or pending trial," the court said. It said that it has refrained from saying anything more as the counsel for the journalist and the news channel have assured the court that in future they would exercise restraint as well as "bring down the rhetoric". "Even according to senior counsel for Tharoor, subsequent to the said statement the previous vitriolic attack was missing.
The statement made by (the counsel for Goswami and the TV channel) is accepted by this court and defendants are held bound by the same," it noted in its order. The court also made it clear that all observations in the judgment were prima facie in nature and in the context of the disputes between the parties before it. It also made it clear that none of the observations shall be used in any criminal proceeding, if any, filed by the state. It observed that irrespective of the style of reporting and the remarks made, the court was of the prima facie view that reporting in this matter was a case of legitimate investigative journalism as even three and a half years after the death of Sunanda Pushkar, wife of a then sitting Union Minister, no charge-sheet has been filed.
"The police may have its own reasons for not completing the investigation, but this is a case where defendants cannot be denied the right to telecast a story as it is a matter of substantial importance with respect to a public figure.
"Further, the documents and materials highlighted by the defendants seem prima facie relevant and material. There is no material to prima facie conclude that the stories have been aired by the defendants with a reckless disregard for truth or precipitated by actual malice," it noted. The court was of the view that in this case as far as the alleged defamatory remarks in concerned, it is of the opinion the matter requireed a detail trial.