Journalists not exempted from disclosing their sources to investigation agencies: CBI court

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CBI logo | Photo: PTI

New Delhi: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in the national capital on Wednesday rejected a "closure report" and said that there is no statutory exemption in India to journalists from disclosing their sources to the investigating agencies.

While rejecting the "closure report", the CBI court also directed further investigation into the matter.

The investigating agency can always bring to the notice of the concerned journalists the requirement of disclosure of the source is essential and vital to the investigation proceedings, the court said.

The investigating agency is fully equipped under the sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to require the public persons to mandatorily join in an investigation where the investigating agency is of the opinion that such public persons are privy to any facts or circumstances pertaining to the case under investigation and public persons are under a legal duty to join the investigation, the court added.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) Anjani Mahajan of Rouse Avenue District Court made the observations and rejected a "closure report" filed by the CBI in a case related to the alleged forgery of documents.

The agency had claimed that the journalists who published and aired the alleged forged documents refused to disclose their source, therefore, it could not complete the investigation in the matter.

The matter pertains to the CBI case where a report related to an alleged disproportionate asset case against Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family members was published by a newspaper and aired by some channels on February 9, 2009, a day before its hearing in the Supreme Court.

A First Information Report (FIR) was then lodged by the CBI alleging that some unknown persons prepared a fake and fabricated report to tarnish the agency's reputation. After the investigation, the CBI filed a closure report in the matter.

The court later rejected the CBI's closure report. It noted that the investigation had not been taken to its logical conclusion and thus directed the agency to question the journalists.

"Merely because the concerned journalists denied to reveal their respective sources, as stated in the final report, the investigating agency should not have put a halt to the entire investigation. There is no statutory exemption in India to journalists from disclosing their sources to investigating agencies, more so where such disclosure is necessary for the purpose of aiding and assisting in investigation of a criminal case," the court said in the order passed on January 17.

The CBI had also submitted that during the investigation, relevant documents were requisitioned from the concerned media houses but they had not given any documents.

While rejecting the submission, the court said, "The CBI is well within its power to direct the concerned journalists/news agencies by way of notices u/s 91 Cr.P.C. etc. to provide the required information and bring to their notice the requisite facts of the case warranting disclosure of the information as per law."Further enquiry was required from the concerned journalists on the aspect of their respective sources from whom they received the purported impugned forged documents which became the basis of their respective news items, the court said in the order.

Based on such information, additional clues regarding the identities of the culprits who entered into the alleged criminal conspiracy, prepared and fraudulently and knowingly used as genuine the forged document by providing it to the media and getting it published and aired could be found and probed, the judge said.

"Further investigation on this aspect is thus required to be conducted," the court said.The judge also noted that "the final report was totally silent on the aspect of the investigation, if at all any conducted, as to how the official document i.e. the undated status report of the CBI which was kept in sealed cover got leaked a day before it was to be filed before the apex court, from the office of CBI, ultimately reaching the media."

"The final report does not disclose any investigation done, on the aspect of how the forger could have gained access to the original note-sheet of Tilotama Varma from which the signatures had been lifted, compressed and reproduced on the alleged forged document as per opinion of the CFSL," the court said.

The investigation was also required to be carried out by the CBI on the modus operandi adopted by the culprits for obtaining the official documents including probing the involvement of any insider in the acts alleged and preparing the alleged forged 17-page review note, the court added.

"Hence, the untrace report is rejected and the CBI is directed to carry out further investigation in the present case," the court said further directing the agency to file the report by March 24.

The Supreme Court had in March 2007 directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary enquiry into the assets Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family members acquired.

In compliance thereof, a preliminary enquiry was registered on March 5, 2007 and was concluded on October 26, 2007.

A status report based on the evidence collected was prepared and placed in two sealed coverenvelopes before the Supreme Court of India.

It is further contended that the proceedings were pending for final adjudication before the Apex Court, on February 9, 2009, i.e. a day before the scheduled date of hearing, the news based on forged documents was published and aired by the media houses.

It was alleged in the complaint that these unknown persons during the year 2008-2009 entered into a criminal conspiracy and with the intent to commit forgery for purpose of harming the reputation of the CBI and CBI officers, used as genuine, a forged document, printed and aired false and fabricated news in newspapers and on TV.

It is contended in the final report that the documents used by the news channel were forged but it could not be established as to who forged the documents as the users of the forged documents did not disclose their source therefore, there is no sufficient material and evidence to prove the criminal conspiracy.


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