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Disha Ravi WhatsApp chats: Delhi HC passes interim order, asks ‘activist’ not to malign the police or authorities

In the interim order, the court directed the Delhi police to conduct press briefings in accordance with the law. It directed media channels to ensure that the broadcast is based on verified sources and that proper editorial control should be exercised so that the investigation is not hampered.

The Delhi High court today heard the plea filed by ‘activist’ Disha Ravi, whose name has emerged in the ‘toolkit’ controversy case, seeking direction to the Delhi police not to leak any material related to the investigation in the said case.

Ravi was sent to police custody till February 19 after she was arrested by Delhi police for her alleged role in preparing the ‘toolkit’ and collaborating with a pro-Khalistani outfit named Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF). She had moved the High Court seeking action against media houses CNN News18, India Today and Times Now. Yesterday, the High Court had issued notices to the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), News 18 and Times Now in relation to her petition.

The plea came up for hearing before a Bench of Justice Pratibha Singh. During the hearing of her petition in the High Court today, Senior Advocate Akhil Ravi, appearing for Disha Ravi, submitted before the court the reliefs sought by Disha Ravi including directing the respondents to remove all the references to her alleged WhatsApp conversations from their online platforms, restraining the respondents from disseminating any particulars of the investigation that are not in public, restraining the respondents from divulging or sharing with media any material which is part of the case file until the charge sheet is filed and directing the respondents to comply with the programme code while reporting.

Police have been leaking details to media outlets: Disha Ravi’s counsel

Senior Advocate Akhil Sibal contended before the court that Delhi police have been ‘leaking’ the details of the investigation, those not mentioned in the FIR, including the alleged WhatsApp conversations of Ravi with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg with media outlets.

Sibal alleged that a narrative was being built based on the leaked material that Disha Ravi panicked and tried to delete her chats and so on. He further contended that the press briefings of the police should be limited to the facts of the case. Sibal referred to the reports by the respondents claiming that all the reports referred to their ‘police sources’ which logically implied that the police leaked the material to them.

Sibal further alleged that the press briefings were not limited to the facts of the case and that they included ‘details, particulars, inferences, opinions’. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) RV Raju contended before the court that the media reports are not ‘gospel truth’. He said that a journalist may not want to reveal his sources and therefore he may attribute the information to police sources.

ASG Raju further contended that there are several persons interrogating and it cannot be conclusively said who leaked the details. He added that there were certain statements made to malign the police and therefore if the police hold a press conference to clarify, it should not be construed as a violation of guidelines. He urged that the bar on leaking should be applicable to both sides.

Systematic attempt to defame and pressurise the police: ASG

ASG Raju said that Disha Ravi has not said that the leaked messages are her own and that she uses the word ‘alleged’ in her petition. He alleged that this was a systematic attempt to defame and pressurise the police.

Advocate Nisha Bhambani, appearing for the NBSA, said that the NBSA did not receive any complaint and therefore it did not take any action. She added that the NBSA had jurisdiction over broadcasting including YouTube but it does not have jurisdiction over tweets.

The court noted that petitioner Disha Ravi did not say that the impugned WhatsApp messages were false.

Counsels appearing for India Today and Times Now contended that the information shown by the media channels was already in the public domain and therefore they did not violate the petitioner’s privacy.

The court passed an interim order on the petition

Senior Advocate Sibal requested the court to stop the dissemination of Disha Ravi’s ‘alleged’ WhatsApp conversations by media outlets. The court passed an interim order recording all the submissions made before it today. In the interim order, the court directed the Delhi police to conduct press briefings in accordance with the law. It directed media channels to ensure that the broadcast is based on verified sources and that proper editorial control should be exercised so that the investigation is not hampered. The court further said that once the charge sheet is out, its coverage cannot be prohibited. The court directed the people connected with the petitioner not to indulge in ‘unnecessary/scandalising messages’. The court said that it would pass an order regarding material already put on record at a later stage. The next hearing of the matter posted in March.

The court also directed petitioner Disha to ensure that there are no efforts from her to malign the Delhi Police or government authorities.

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