The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a plea of self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a minor, for restraining the media from covering the sexual assault case against him.
"At present, we cannot entertain your petition," a bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.
The bench, however, gave the liberty to 72-year-old jailed godman to approach again if he feels aggrieved of subsequent media coverage in the case.
"Suppose, the victim and the family go to the police for lodging the complaint and then informs the press or the police informs the press after registering the case, can we restrain them?" the court said.
However, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Asaram, cited certain captions used by some news channels in their reports and said "our grievance is against the mutilation of news reports. I am not against the media coverage. I have no difficulty with the correct reporting."
One of the news channels went further and said the medical reports confirmed rape, he said adding it is not the case of even the victim that she was raped.
Citing various apex court judgements, he said Asaram had the legal option to approach the court seeking "postponement" of media coverage and he is presumed to be innocent till proven guilty.
The court said "we are not on maintainability. We are not undermining your prayer but the question is can we pass such a direction at this stage".
Alleging trial by the media, the counsel said that on the one hand, the accused was not allowed to refer to the contents of the girl's statement, recorded by the magistrate, while on the other, it is available to the media.
Some news channels run news, related to the case only, at the prime time as Asaram has seven crore followers and this raises their TRPs which ultimately leads to increase in the rate of commercials, he said.
Asaram was arrested in August on the charge of sexually assaulting a minor girl and has been in prison at Jodhpur in Rajasthan since then.