New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Thursday set aside the order of its single judge bench restraining telecast of a TV show, `Crime Patrol Dastak`, based on teachers’ recruitment scam in which former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and 54 others were convicted.
"The appeal is allowed. The impugned order dated February 22, 2013 is set aside," a bench headed by Justice Pradeep Nandrajog said.
"The single judge has not even viewed the proposed programme, much less read the transcript thereof. Unless the same was viewed and the transcript read, it would be impossible to find out whether the publication made comments on the merits of the case or upon the character of the accused for the reason the trial is over resulting in a conviction being sustained.”
"Witnesses have spoken. Documents have been proved. The evidence is in public domain. The broadcast claims to be a dramatic description of the documentary and ocular evidence. Whether or not the presentation commented on the merits of the case could only be determined after viewing the proposed programme and reading transcript," the court said.
Allowing the plea of Multi Screen Media Pvt Ltd, the bench, also comprising Justice Pratibha Rani, said the former Harnaya chief minister and others have not been able to demonstrate that "a substantial risk of prejudice" would be caused to them if the programme is telecast.
The single judge bench had allowed the plea of Chautala, Vidya Dhar and Sher Singh Badshami to stop telecast of the show on Sony TV channel on the ground that it would prejudice their case. They have recently moved the High Court against the conviction for their alleged roles in the recruitment of 3206 junior basic trained teachers in the state.
The court, however, clarified that its observations would not be construed as comments on the merits of the case and the single judge bench would decide the plea of Chautala and others without being influenced by them.
"The usual mantra. Nothing said by us would be treated as an expression on the merits of the case. The application seeking interim injunction would be decided by the single judge uninfluenced by any observations made by us on the factual aspect of the matter. Reference to the facts made by us are limited for the purpose of discussing the legal issue which arose with respect to the grant of the ad-interim injunction," the court said.
The court, in its 15-page order, said the question of "balancing the interests" of the accused with that of media`s right to inform the citizens will arise only when it is demonstrated that there is "a substantial risk of prejudice" against the accused.
"Suffice would it be for us to note that having correctly noted the legal position in paragraph 10 of the impugned order, the single judge has not even discussed whether the respondents had prima facie been able to demonstrate a substantial risk of prejudice when the application seeking suspension of sentence would be taken up for consideration by a single judge of this court.”
"The reasoning of the single judge is that balancing interests demands that at least till such time the application filed by the respondents seeking suspension of sentence is adjudicated by the court, the respondents need to be saved from condemnation by the media," it said.
The court, which also read the transcript of the show besides viewing its excerpts, did not "discuss the nature and character of the telecast".
It, however, said "...Prima-facie no derogatory words impinging upon the character of the respondents have been used...".
The court also said a balance has to be found between the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right of an accused to be presumed innocent.
"The two interests i.e. Interest of the society in freedom of speech and right to a fair and impartial administration of justice have to be balanced, for more often than not they frequently clash with one another. The resolution of the two conflicts requires the identification of the core values of the two social interests, for only then, can the society harmonise the two," it said.
The single judge bench had earlier directed the TV channel not to telecast the episode.
Chautala, his son Ajay Chautala and 53 others were held guilty of illegally recruiting 3,206 JBT teachers in the state in 2000.
Chautala and his son along with two IAS officers Sanjiv Kumar and Vidya Dhar, Badshami and five others were sentenced to 10 years jail term.
Others were sentenced to imprisonment for four to five years.