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Delhi excise policy scam: Media broadcast should be in tune with CBI, ED press releases, says HC

The Delhi High Court on Monday told certain media organisations to ensure that their broadcast on the Delhi excise policy scam cases is “in tune with official press releases” by the CBI and the ED and comply with guidelines, after a plea objected to alleged news leaks.

The court also pulled up the News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority (NBDA) after it submitted that it has no power to restrain news channels. “If self-regulation is a mere eyewash, why should we not disband you,” Justice Yashwant Varma said.

The order, which made the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) a party to the proceedings, was passed on a petition by businessman Vijay Nair, an accused in the cases related to the alleged excise policy scam being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Nair had moved the court earlier this month claiming that sensitive information in relation to the case was being leaked to the media by the investigating agencies, which was adversely impacting his right as an accused.

Justice Varma on Monday issued notice to the media organisations named by the petitioner while noting that the content in question was not based on any press releases stated to have been issued by investigating agencies.

The judge thus asked the news broadcasting authority to duly examine the broadcast and place a report as to whether they would be compliant with the applicable guidelines.

“Pending further consideration, the court directs respondents 5 to 9 (media organisations) to ensure that all the broadcast that are carried in respect to (the case) are in tune with any official press releases that may be issued either by the CBI or ED and comply with the directives which govern,” the court said.

“In the meanwhile, the court directs respondent no 4 (NBDSA) to duly examine the broadcast in question and place a report in these proceedings as to whether they would be compliant with the guidelines in respect of broadcasting,”it added.

The court listed the case for further consideration in February.

It also noted that certain “safeguards” have also been ordered by the trial court that are sufficient to “protect the interests of the parties” in the meanwhile.

The News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) is an association of several leading news and current affairs broadcasters. NBDSA administers the standards voluntarily drawn by NBDA for its members.

Nair, in custody in the money laundering case being probed by the ED in relation to the alleged excise scam, is a former CEO of an events management company and communication in-charge of AAP.

Earlier this month, he was granted bail by the trial court in the case being probed by the CBI.

During the proceedings, the ED informed the court that it has not issued any press releases pertaining to the case and none of the broadcast in question is based on any information disclosed by it to the media.

The CBI produced the press releases issued by it in relation to the case and the court noted that a comparison with the aired content indicated that there was “simply no correlation” between the two.

“It is therefore not a case where, at least at this stage, it can be said that information has been selectively leaked or provided by agencies,” noted the court.

While the court asked about the source behind the content shown by the media in the absence of any official releases and what action the broadcasting authority proposed to take against the broadcasters, the counsel for NBDSA told the court that it has no power to restrain the news channels.

“Should we disband you? If self-regulation is a mere eyewash, why should we not disband you?.. Where does this TV channel get this information? You are either a self-regulatory body or you are not a self-regulatory body,” the court responded.

“What these news channels publish, has to necessarily be in tune with the disclosures publically made by the CBI, ED, It has to be something that appears or is reflected from the order of the court,” the court stated.

Nair has argued before the high court that the case was at a critical stage and his rights as an accused are adversely affected when the details are released in the media.

He has contended that all the information was reaching the media through the investigating agencies and if a news organisation was carrying things based on “imagination”, that was dangerous.

The court had then said it would consider the official communications issued by the investigating agencies and see if the television channels reported on the issue based on the communication or out of their “figment of imagination”.

Nair, who is associated with Delhi’s ruling AAP, entered into a criminal conspiracy with others, and in furtherance of the conspiracy, the excise policy of the government of the national capital territory of Delhi (GNCTD) of 2021-2022 was framed and implemented, according to the prosecution.

The motive, according to the prosecution, was to provide undue and illegal favours to liquor manufacturers and distributors at the cost of the government exchequer and the policy resulted in a huge revenue loss to the government.

The CBI had registered an FIR against public servants, excise department officers and others, including Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The accused public servants were instrumental in recommending and taking decisions about the excise policy without securing the approval of the competent authority, according to the FIR.

The intent of the accused was to extend undue favours to the liquor licensees for illegal pecuniary benefits, it said. Moneycontrol

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