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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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  Police investigation and the media
 
 
One Must Appreciate The Other’s Role

Sankar Sen

Police investigation into the Aarushi murder case at Noida is being extensively covered by the media. The CBI’s handling has come in for criticism. It is anybody’s guess as to when the truth will be unraveled and the guilty brought to book. Meanwhile, the media continues to cover the case on the basis of its own theories and conjectures. Initially, the police investigation was shoddy; it exposed the professional incompetence of the force and the ineptitude of senior officers to interact properly with the media. Some of their remarks were unwarranted and should never have been made. This throws up the wider issue of police-media relationship, which in India remains somewhat adversarial. A content analysis of Indian newspapers and journals as well as TV channels over a period of time reveals that the media on occasion makes negative and pejorative references to the functioning of the police.

Friction & tension

It is almost invariably portrayed as insensitive and lawless. The police, on the other hand, accuse the media of sensationalism and exaggeration. Another charge is that sections of the media are not only unsympathetic; they even betray a lack of understanding and objectivity while reporting law and order issues. Many police chiefs can recount stories of the media’s interference with ongoing investigations and of insensitivity to the legitimate privacy and interests of victims. The relationship between the police and the media in a democratic society need not always be cordial. But despite friction and “constructive tension”, to use the words of a well-known journalist, there ought to be a fair measure of understanding and an appreciation of each other’s role. The police must remember that a free media is essential in a democracy. It is the bulwark of a free society. Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. The freedom of the press is part of the freedom of expression. The first amendment of the US Constitution has laid down that “the Congress shall not make laws abridging the freedom of the press”. The USA’s First Amendment Law was formulated after several cases, pre-eminently The New York Times vs. Sullivan (1964), which constitutionalised the law of libel. The judgment held that the First Amendment protects media criticism of local police activity, shielding media organisations and personnel from defamation action brought by public officials so long as the defendant media organisations “did not engage in a reckless disregard of the truth” when it published the story. It is often difficult for the police to come up with details of an incident because the matter is sub judice or if the disclosure can affect investigation. The inquiry and subsequent judicial proceedings can be prejudiced if the media gets to know too much. Nevertheless, there is a tendency on the part of the police to withhold information instead of sharing it with the press on the pretext of secrecy. To be tightlipped ~ “no comment” ~ is often an unwritten policy. Indeed, in many states, the police manuals advocate this culture of secrecy. The National Police Commission has recommended that Superintendents of Police should be permitted to deal directly with the press. The police station officer should also be authorised to provide details of the crime graph, the arrests made and the cases convicted. The commission observed: “The exercise of discretion should be in favour of giving as much information as can be given”. The Delhi Police Commission has also recommended that in respect of cases in which the police figure, the facts should immediately be given to the press in the form of handouts so that the media is in possession of all the materials before publication. The police case often suffers if it avoids the media. The commission was also in favour of a “code of honour” between the police and the press about the precise piece of information that should be published so that “the progress of investigation is not jeopardised”. Unfortunately, senior police officers are reluctant to admit the lapses of their subordinates. They often try to defend the indefensible, and the exercise is unconvincing. Senior officers must always be upfront with the details instead of sweeping matters under the carpet. It is this attitude that provokes the press to expose and exaggerate the lapses of the police by gathering information from unreliable sources. The Noida incident makes it imperative for the police to organise proper interactive sessions with the media and train the law enforcement officers accordingly. Police officers must be adept in handling the media in the wake of a tragedy. It must also be well versed in the legal aspects and repercussions of disseminating information.

Ally, not rival

The police can find the media helpful in disseminating information on departmental rules and practices and giving publicity regarding wanted persons and criminals. An assessment of crime prevention publicity conducted by the Research Unit of Home Office, London, shows that offender-oriented publicity campaigns through the media on such issues as vandalism and drunken driving have been remarkably successful. It has also helped to justify the introduction of counter-measures, highlighting the social and personal cost of irresponsible behaviour. Enlightened police officers should grasp the fact that the media in general is a potential ally and not a rival. If the police are forthcoming with information, they will receive the media’s support and their work will be appreciated. “But it is not good enough,” says the Royal Commission (1960) in its report, “for the police to understand the requirements of the media. It is equally important for the media to understand the difficulties of the police because the interests of both ~ despite occasional friction ~ run in the same direction”.

 


The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

 
     
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