In a Delhi court order on Umar Khalid’s application against the media trial against him, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Dinesh Kumar of northeast Delhi Karkardooma Courts said that ‘any news item should be published after verifying and clarifying all the facts’. The order specifically mentions one news item as an example of problematic reportage.
The order reads: In one of the news items, the news starts with words “Radical Islamist and Anti Hindu Delhi Riots accused Umar Khalid....”. The order reads that the news report portrays the entire Delhi riots as anti-Hindu, when that is not the case. “However, in fact this does not appear to be the case, as all the communities have felt the consequences of those riots,” the order reads.
The reference here seems to be to the right-wing publication OpIndia (as you can see above) that starts with the same exact words and the objection raised is to calling the violence of February 2020, anti-Hindu in nature. The Quint confirmed that the article was the first amongst many attached to the original plea moved by Umar’s lawyers.
The order goes on to say that ‘such news item might show to the public at large that accused Umar Khalid had in fact confessed/admitted his role in Delhi riots. However, it is the duty of the judicial system to decide a case on merits after trial’.
Court: Media Didn’t Clarify That Confessional Statements Are Not Evidence
Explaining how media reported on accused Umar Khalid admitting to his involvement in Delhi riots, based on confessional or disclosure statements, the order states that ‘a confessional statement made to a police official is not admissible as evidence in law’.
The order states that news reports only highlighted that Khalid had confessed to his involvement, however none of them clarified to its readers that such a statement could not be used by the prosecution as evidence.
“A reporter should have such a basic knowledge of law as readers/viewers consider news item as true without verifying the facts. Further, general public might not be aware of the law as above mentioned.”The court order.
It is the duty of the press to educate its readers about facts and circumstances.
As an example of problematic reportage, the order refers to a news item starts with the words, “Radical Islamist and Anti Hindu Delhi Riots accused Umar Khalid....”
Speaking about how problematic reportage can deprive the accused of his dignity, the order reads that any news item should be published after verifying and clarifying all the facts.
What Did Umar Khalid and Delhi Police Argue?
“One of the grievance of accused Umar Khalid is that he has been prejudiced by the various reports published in various newspapers and shown on various news channels,” the order reads. It goes on to state how Khalid’s counsels argued that even before the charge sheet was supplied to the accused, it had been leaked to the media.
The Delhi Police told the court that the charge sheet was not leaked by the police to the media. “No press release or media briefing had been done by Delhi Police at the time or after filing of the chargesheet,” the order notes the argument of the police.
These television and print reports stated that in disclosure of confessional statements, Umar Khalid had admitted to having conspired to fuel the north-east Delhi riots of February 2020 and also that he involved children and women for organising the chakka jam (road blockade).
Umar and his lawyers repeatedly told the court that not only had he not written any such confession statement and mentioned ‘refused to sign’ on these documents, but also told court back on 4 October that he had ‘never made any confession to any police official or any other authority’. This is also part of a court order from the same day.
Despite these concerns placed on record, Khalid’s counsels argued that the media has tried to show that accused has confessed about his involvement in the Delhi riots.
“The deliberate and and unfair targeting of the applicant/accused by selectively quoting and misquoting is aimed at damaging the reputation of the applicant/accused and destroying the presumption of the innocence of the applicant/accused unless proved guilty,” the order notes.