New Delhi: The Supreme Court today turned down a plea of self-styled godman Asaram Bapu to restrain the media from covering the alleged sexual assault case against him and hoped that the press would follow guidelines framed by it in reporting such cases.
A bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, gave the liberty to the 72-year-old jailed godman to approach the court again if he feels aggrieved of subsequent media coverage in the case and if the guidelines laid down by the court are not adhered to by media.
"After hearing the argument of the learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner as well as the publication and news coverage which are enclosed with the present petition as well as the ratio laid down in various decisions, we are of the view that for the present there is no need to entertain the writ petition," the bench said.
"In view of various directions in the above referred cases, we hope and trust that the media both print and electronic would follow those guidelines," it said.
The bench raised questions on how can it restrain the police and victim from sharing information with the press.
"Suppose, the victim and the family go to the police for lodging the complaint and then informs the press or the police informs the press after registering the case, can we restrain them?" the court asked.
However, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Asaram, cited certain captions used by some news channels in their reports and said, "Our grievance is against the mutilation of news reports. I am not against the media coverage. I have no difficulty with the correct reporting."
One of the news channels went further and claimed the medical reports confirmed rape, he said, adding it is not the case of even the victim that she was raped.
Citing various apex court judgements, he said Asaram had the legal option to approach the court seeking "postponement" of media coverage and he is presumed to be innocent till proven guilty.
The court said, "We are not on maintainability. We are not undermining your prayer but the question is can we pass such a direction at this stage."
Alleging trial by the media, Asaram's counsel said that on the one hand, the accused was not allowed to refer to the contents of the girl's statement, recorded by the magistrate, while on the other, it is available to the media.
Some news channels run news, related to the case only, at the prime time as Asaram has seven crore followers and this raises their TRPs which ultimately leads to increase in the rate of commercials, he claimed.
Asaram was arrested in August on the charge of sexually assaulting a minor girl and has been in prison at Jodhpur in Rajasthan since then.
Asaram had on October 8 moved the Supreme Court seeking to restrain the media from carrying out its own trial against him.
The counsel for the controversial spiritual leader had said the media should be restrained from doing this otherwise he will not get a fair trial.
"The media is convicting me prior to the trial and I will not get a fair trial," he said.
He also urged the court to restrain the media from carrying speculative reports about Asaram, his family and his ashrams in the wake of sexual assault allegations against him.
The lawyer had said there were 10,000 boys and girls studying in his client's ashrams and the media reports were adversely affecting them.