On September 13, 2023, the Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Manoj Misra, and Justice JB Pardiwala directed the Union Ministry of Home and Affairs to prepare a comprehensive manual on media briefings by police personnel in criminal cases. The bench also directed the DGPs (Director Generals of Police) of all states to submit suggestions for the same within one month. It also highlighted that the entire process of preparing a comprehensive manual should be completed within three months. The bench noted that the existing guidelines were prepared a decade ago, and media reporting of criminal cases has increased since then. The SC said, “The age, gender of accused and nature of crime will weigh on the nature of disclosure to be made…media trial leads to deflection from the course of justice. Bearing in mind these aspects we are of the view that the Home Ministry prepares a comprehensive manual on media briefings by police personnel.”
During the court proceedings, Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan (amicus curiae) said, “We cannot restrain the media from reporting. But the sources can be restrained. Because the source is the state. Even in the Aarushi case, so many versions were given to the media.” He also submitted certain guidelines to be addressed for framing the manual including the Media Relation Handbook of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Communication Advisory of the Association of Chief Police Officers of the UK, the New York Police Department (NYPD), and the CBI manual. Further, the Court observed, “Media reportage which implicates an accused is unfair. Biased reporting also gives rise to public suspicion that the person has committed an offence. The media reports can also violate the privacy of victims.” The bench also highlighted the need for updated guidelines, “The guidelines by Union were prepared almost a decade ago on April 1, 2010. Since then, with the upsurge of reporting of crime not only in print media but also in electronic media, it becomes important for there to be a balance.”
The SC also said “The nature of the disclosure cannot be uniform since it must depend upon the nature of the crime and the participating stakeholders including the victims, witnesses, and accused. The age and gender of the victim and accused would have a significant bearing on the nature of the disclosure.” The bench stated, “It should be ensured that the disclosure doesn’t result in media trial so as to allow pre-determination of the guilt of the accused.” The matter was scheduled for a hearing in the second week of January by the Supreme Court.