Justice Vipin Sanghi of the Delhi High Court directed police and Aaj Tak channel to pay compensation to the girl, who had filed a writ petition in the court through her mother, alleging violation of the right to privacy and confidentiality under Article 21 as well as violation of “norms of journalistic conduct” by Delhi Police, Aaj Tak and a prominent national daily newspaper.
The girl had been raped by her father in 2005, and the details of the FIR were leaked to the media, following which a channel and a newspaper had published news reports with details of the incident, which had also contained information that revealed the identity of the minor girl. The petition had alleged that the girl and her mother were forced to shift to another city to avoid “humiliation” after their identities were revealed.
Holding that the media “owe a duty to the public at large to report news and views which ought to be reported, correctly and wherever necessary, with restraint and caution”, the court stressed on the “duty to maintain utmost secrecy and confidence in the matter of identity of a rape victim”.
“Such duty stems from the need to prevent social obliteration and humiliation of the victim. The potential of the press and media to cause harm was immense since they “enjoy a position of trust in the society and also because of their reach,” the court said.
The court held that there was “gross negligence and dereliction of duty” on part of the Delhi Police, in allowing details of the FIR to be leaked out to the media, while Aaj Tak has been held “liable for gross negligence and, consequent, breach of fundamental right of the petitioner’s daughter in telecasting the said programme containing particulars sufficient for the disclosure of the identity of the petitioner’s daughter”.
Observing that the newspaper had not published specific details that could have revealed the identity of the girl, the court did not hold the newspaper liable.
The channel had been accused of “giving wide publicity to the incident — by revealing the name, designation and office of the accused father; by showing several images of the colony and the house in which the petitioner and her family lived; and by airing the recorded voice of the petitioner refusing entry to crew members”.
Holding that “the purpose of award of damages in such cases is also to set an example for others, so that it acts as a deterrent against such similar misadventures”, the court directed Delhi Police to pay Rs 1 lakh to the girl, while asking Aaj Tak to pay Rs 5 lakh. The two respondents have also been directed to pay Rs 25,000 each as litigation fees to the girl.
The court also took note of a circular issued by the Delhi Police in 2002, which specifically prohibited police personnel from disclosing the name and identity of a rape victim, and said any press briefing would only be given by the DCP or the Joint CP (Range) concerned or the Crime Against Women Cell.
Noting that the circumstances of the leak of the information were unclear, the court has directed the police commissioner to set up an inquiry, headed by a DCP-level officer, to look into the leak of the disclosure of the FIR. The court has asked the police to conduct the inquiry within four months.