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Leash on reporting marital disputes

New Delhi, May 25 (PTI): Delhi High Court has issued a restraint on airing or printing of details of cases such as those involving marital disputes or dowry demands, saying it amounts to invasion of privacy.

The court’s order, which came a few days after a series of stories on dowry harassment hogged the media spotlight, was delivered on a petition filed by a woman seeking to restrict a television channel from airing the views of her husband on their marriage that has gone sour.

The petition said beaming the proceedings of her divorce petition filed under the Hindu Marriage Act as well as that filed by her husband on grounds of cruelty would amount to invasion of her privacy.

Police have also booked a case under Sections 498A (harassment for dowry) and 406 (misappropriation of dowry articles) of the Indian Penal Code against the husband and some members of his family, the woman’s counsel informed the court.

The court held that airing such a programme would amount to trial by the media and prejudice the case. “I am of the view that the plaintiff has made out a good prima facie case for grant of ex-parte restraint,” Justice Manmohan Sarin said.

Barring the channel from airing the views of the husband and the wife, the court observed that “even comments which would interfere with the administration of justice may fall within the ambit of contempt”.

Dismissing the need for prior restraint, the court said: “What requires consideration is whether the defendant (channel) for airing a programme supposedly on issues exercising the minds of (the) general public such as cruelty in marriage, dowry demands, etc. can air a programme which has the effect of invasion of privacy of the plaintiff or other members of the public and may interfere with the fair trial of their cases which is sub judice.”

Under Section 22 of the Hindu Marriage Act, the court pointed out, the mandate of the statute was to carry on the proceedings in camera. There is a “prohibition” on reporting.

The counsel for the woman had submitted that any programme disclosing facts or allegations as may be made by her husband would cause irreparable damage to her reputation.

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