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HC Issues Notice To Media Channels on Activist Disha Ravi’s Plea

The 22-year-old climate activist impleaded the court to restrain the police from leaking probe material to media.

Updated
India
4 min read
Disha Ravi, a climate activist from Bengaluru, was arrested in connection with the ‘toolkit’ case. Image used for representation. 
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The Delhi High Court on Thursday, 18 February, issued notices to News Broadcasting Standards Authority and a few media houses, on a petition moved by 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi, which impleaded the Delhi High Court to restrain the police from leaking probe material to media, and to ensure responsible reporting on the case by the media.

The matter will now be taken up by the court on Friday, 19 February.

Ravi has been arrested by Delhi Police on charges of ‘sharing and spreading’ a toolkit on the farmers’ protest.

The petition filed by Ravi argues that leakage of Ravi’s private WhatsApp chats, as well as alleged admissions and disclosures by her during her time in police custody, and the subsequent biased media reportage about her is:

“False, malicious and severely compromises the Petitioner’s right to privacy, right to reputation, and right to a fair trial.”

Ravi’s lawyers have specifically listed News18, India Today and Times Now as respondents in the case for their coverage, along with the News Broadcasting Standards Association.

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What Happened at Thursday’s Hearing?

At the hearing on Thursday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union of India, told the Delhi High Court that the Delhi Police has not leaked any information to media in relation to the FIR against Ravi.

"We can file an affidavit in this regard,” Mehta informed the court.

However, appearing on behalf of Ravi, senior advocate Akhil Sibal questioned how media channels were saying that they are getting all this information about the activist from the police. “How do media channels have access to her personal information?” he asked.

The court recorded SG Mehta's statement that no leakage has been made to media by the Delhi Police and also asked the Delhi Police to state the same in an affidavit and submit it to the court on Friday.

Notices have been issued to News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), News 18, India Today and Times Now.

What Does the Petition Say?

Examples of this coverage cited in the petition include:

  • Tweets and programme segments by News18 about an alleged WhatsApp chat between Disha and Greta Thunberg where she reportedly worried about UAPA being invoked against them. The video also includes claims about ‘admissions’ allegedly made by Ravi to the police during questioning.
  • Programmes by India Today and Times Now reproducing alleged private conversations between Disha and Greta on WhatsApp.
  • Articles by DNA and Zee News making further claims about alleged admissions and confessions.
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The petition has asked the court to order the Delhi Police to not leak any investigation material relating to the case, including alleged contents of private chats and communications to any third party, including the media.

It also asks for action to be taken by the Centre and the NBSA under relevant mechanisms against News18, India Today, Times Now and any other media house for publishing alleged private chats between Disha and others, and for the channels to take down their existing stories that contain this material.

Finally, it also asks the High Court to restrain all TV channels from disseminating any other alleged private chats and conversations of Disha Ravi till the trial is concluded.

To justify these requests, Ravi’s lawyers have cited the Delhi High Court’s order slamming the Delhi Police for leaks of investigation material relating to Devangana Kalita, as well as specific guidelines on media coverage of the Centre and the NBSA. The coverage by the media thus far is also alleged to violate the Bombay High Court’s recent order on media trials in the context of coverage of the death of Sushant Singh Rajput.

‘Key Conspirator’, Says Delhi Police

Ravi was arrested from Bengaluru on Saturday, 13 February. Breaking down in a Delhi court, before which she was produced on Sunday, 14 February, Ravi denied being part of any conspiracy and said, "I was just supporting farmers.” She added that she didn't create the toolkit, and just made two edits to it.

However, the Delhi Police said that Ravi was one of the editors of the toolkit Google Doc and a “key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination.” A Delhi magistrate later remanded the climate activist to five days’ police custody.

Since her arrest, the Delhi Police has put out Twitter threads saying she is part of a conspiracy (without specifying these are allegations), organised press conferences where they repeated these claims and tried to argue against criticism of her arrest, and selectively leaked information about the ongoing probe to media houses which have run programmes based on these.

DCW Notice to Delhi Police

Taking suo-motu cognisance of her arrest, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) on Tuesday, 16 February, wrote to Delhi Police over media reports of alleged lapses of protocol during her arrest.

Referring to reports claiming that Ravi was brought from Bengaluru to Delhi without her parents having knowledge of her whereabouts, not producing her before a local court for her transit remand and her trial being allegedly conducted without the lawyer of her choice being present in the court, the DCW demanded information in the matter from the Delhi Police.

After Ravi’s arrest in the toolkit controversy, non-bailable warrants were issued against activists Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk in the matter. While Muluk was granted transit anticipatory bail for 10 days by the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, 16 February, the Principal Bench of the Bombay High Court on Wednesday, 17 February, granted Jacob transit anticipatory bail for three weeks.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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