No person, be it the media or governmental agencies, has the right to peep into the private lives of citizens without a valid reason, the Kerala High Court held recently.
The court also observed that certain media personalities' "so-called crusade for truth and justice" or personal vendetta cannot be excuses for impinging the right to privacy of the general public.
It said that it was "disheartening" to see that some news channels "are in the habit of publishing sleaze more than news."
"A section of the public also devours such sensational and salacious news. In the absence of any mechanism to curb the menace, it is for those channels to introspect and decide whether, by the action of a few, faith in the fourth estate, a powerful pillar of our democracy, is getting eroded," the court said.
The strong observations by Justice V G Arun came while dismissing a plea by two media persons seeking anticipatory bail in a case against them for various offences under the IPC, Information Technology Act and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA Act).
The two journalists are accused of publishing on their online channel news items containing disparaging remarks against a woman who had lodged a complaint against her employer, also a media person, alleging that he compelled her to videograph her nudity for creating a morphed video of a lady Minister of the State.
The disparaging news items were published after the arrest of her employer who also used to run an online news channel.
The complainant alleged the news items were published with the knowledge that she belonged to a Scheduled Tribe community. The accused moved the High Court after a Sessions Court rejected their plea for anticipatory bail.
Before the High Court, they denied the allegations against them in the complaint and claimed that their news items were an expression of protest against the false implication of the complainant's employer.
They also contended that their custodial interrogation was not necessary and offences under the PoA Act would not be attracted.
Justice Arun, while rejecting their claims and contentions, said, "In my opinion, publication of another person's private moments for public viewing is, by itself, an offensive act, even if there is no law preventing such action.
"No person, whether it be the media or governmental agencies, has the right to peep into the private lives of the citizens of this country, without there being a valid reason." The court also said that in the instant case, the allegations against the accused media persons was that they had knowledge the complainant belonged to ST community and therefore, publication of news with content to insult or abuse her was sufficient to attract offences under PoA Act.
"Hence, the contention that there is no material or circumstance to attract the offences under the PoA Act can only be rejected. Consequently, the bar under Section 18 of the Act, against grant of pre-arrest bail, will come into play. "Hence, the finding of the Special Court (sessions court), in that regard, does not warrant interference. For the aforementioned reasons, the appeal is dismissed," the court said.
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