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February 2023 - 4:46 pm IST

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No statutory exemption to journalists from disclosing their sources: Delhi court

No statutory exemption to journalists from disclosing their sources: Delhi court

Published:18 January 2023

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Anjani Mahajan made the observation while rejecting a “closure report” filed by the CBI, which had claimed that it could not complete the investigation into a case of alleged forgery because the journalists who published and aired the alleged forged documents refused to disclose the source they received it from.

New Delhi | A Delhi court has held that there is no statutory exemption in India to journalists from disclosing their sources to investigating agencies.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Anjani Mahajan made the observation while rejecting a “closure report” filed by the CBI, which had claimed that it could not complete the investigation into a case of alleged forgery because the journalists who published and aired the alleged forged documents refused to disclose the source they received it from.
According to the FIR, certain news channels and newspapers had aired and published reports related to a disproportionate assets case against late Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family members on February 9, 2009 i.e. a day prior to the scheduled date of hearing in the Supreme Court.
After the publication of news, the CBI had lodged an FIR against unknown persons for allegedly preparing fake and fabricated report to tarnish the reputation of the agency.
However, later the CBI filed a closure report into the matter.
The judge rejected the report and directed the CBI to question the journalists, noting that the agency had not chosen to take the investigation to its logical conclusion. “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 judge said.
In her order passed on Tuesday, the judge said that the investigating agency can always bring to the notice of the concerned journalists the requirement of disclosure of the source being essential and vital to the investigation proceedings.
“The investigating agency is fully equipped under the IPC and Cr.P.C. 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 judge added.
The CBI had submitted before the court that during investigation, relevant documents were requisitioned from the concerned news channels but they had not given any document on which their news reports were based.
“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,” the judge noted.
She said that further inquiry was required to be conducted from the concerned journalists on the aspect of their respective sources from whom they received the purported forged documents which became the basis of their respective news items.
The judge said that 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.
“Further investigation on this aspect is thus required to be conducted,” she said.
The judge further observed that the final report was totally silent on the aspect of 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 judge said.
She added that 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 involvement of any insider in the acts alleged and preparing the alleged forged 17-page review note.
“Hence, the untrace report is rejected and the CBI is directed to carry out further investigation in the present case,” the judge said, and directed the agency to file the report by March 24.
The Supreme Court had in March 2007 directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the assets acquired by Yadav and his family members, following which a case was registered and a status report was filed before the apex court bench in sealed cover envelopes.
The proceedings were pending for final adjudication before the top court, when on February 9, 2009 i.e. a day prior to the scheduled date of hearing, reports were published and aired in print and electronic media, respectively.
Following the media reports, the CBI filed an FIR against unknown persons for allegedly preparing fake and fabricated report to tarnish the reputation of the agency.
It was alleged that the accused persons entered into “criminal conspiracy” during 2008-2009 and committed forgery to harm the reputation of the CBI and its officers. The investigating agency said that the act was defamatory.
It was contended in the final report that the documents used by the news channels and newspapers 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/evidence to prove the criminal conspiracy. 


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