Constitutional Law

Media Trial in India: A Judicial Perspective

By Amit Sheoran

Introduction

We are living in the era of science and technology, which makes our life easy and fast. In the past, it was very difficult to send messages to other people. But today we can send messages from one individual to another within a few seconds by using various social media platforms. In today’s world we can know about the happenings of the world by a single click. In modern era media play a crucial role in transfer of information from one place to another or from one person to another person. It will not be wrong to say that the media has become a part and parcel of our daily life. Media is considered as an important part for the democratic country therefore we can say that it is like the pillars of democracy.  Basically media is further divided into two categories in which first is electronic media and the second is printed media. We can take examples of electronic media such as radio, television, mobile, computer etc. On the other hand, the example of printed media can be magazines and newspapers. In today’s time the media has made its own place in the mind of people. As a result people blindly trust the media and they accept and assume every fact true that the media represent or display them without thinking what is wrong and what is right? Media is one of the best ways to put the voice, views and thoughts of people in front of society and legislatures. Media provides a platform through which anyone can put their views and thoughts in the forefront of society. Sometimes we hear about the world media trial, then a question arises in our mind that what is media trial? The answer is simple and straightforward, The media trial is defined as the process through which the media investigate any legal case by its own way and put their view or verdict among society. These views or verdict can be before or after the actual verdict of the court. It is considered that the trial by the media came to light nearly in the end of twentieth century or in the starting of the twenty first century. In Today’s time, media trials are increasing day by day, because the media is clearly aware that people trust them completely and assume everything true to what the media says. It is absolutely true that media should be independent and represent their views in the front of people without feeling any pressure of government authority or any political power, but sometime media take the benefit of their independency by suing the independency in wrong way or by giving false information, that may lead to any time type of harm or loss to the people. For example by publishing or by displaying the wrong or false information about any individual that may lower down the reputation of that person in the eyes of right thinking people about him or in the society in which he has a good reputation. We have seen these types of incidents many times. If people believe in the media the media should also maintain the belief of people.  

It is very true that the media plays an important role in molding the views, opinions, and thoughts of people or in front of the government or people. It will not be wrong to say that it has the potential of changing the whole viewpoint through which people make their perceptions on various events. 

History 

It is considered that Media Trials started to come into effect by the end of the 20th century or at the very starting of the 21st century. And slowly it makes its identity in the eyes of people and wins the belief of people. It is considered that the term Media trials had been originated lately but it has defined or explained its meaning in the famous case that is known as Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle in 1921, in this case, Roscoe was discharged by the court of law, but the main thing is that he had lost his entire reputation & prestige in the right-thinking people and society along with this the media also had declared him guilty. We can take the example of another renowned case that was the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995, In this case, the media had promoted the case and deeply influenced the minds of the people, therefore we can say that it is obvious that media deeply influences the views, thought and prescription of the public. It is not mentioned anywhere in the legal system that the media should try or interfere in the case in its own way. As we hear the line that every coin has its two faces in the same way media trials have two faces. It is very true that media trials and journalism act as a pre-decided picture of an accused in the eyes of people by highlighting the accused as a wrongdoer and that leads to affect the reputation of that individual. Sometimes it also affects the case that is ongoing in the case. Because it is completely in the hands of media how to represent it in front of people so that people can make their preimage after seeing the news about that individual before the court verdict came. We can take another case that is famously known as the Sheena Bohra murder case in this case the excruciating eyes of the media have completely influenced the personal life of the accused named Indrani Mukherjea which arose an argument and debate on the matter of media trial of the above discussed accused. In this type of case, the media stand a question of doubt in the front 0f people and people confused and think that the legal system is not doing its job properly and consider the media is right. We can take the latest example of the Lucknow girl case, in this case, the media is representing that the police department is not doing its job properly and trying to save the girl but the actual matter can be different from it. 

Meaning and importance of Media Trial

The term media trial is defined as the process through which the media take any case in its own hand and after that declare the person either as guilty or not guilty according to fact and circumstances. In another way, we can say that a media trial takes any issue on its behalf and tries to declare whether the person is guilty or not on the basis of facts and circumstances that are related to that particular case, it may even declare the decision before the court declared.

We can see there are many cases in which the media trial has its role and declared an accused as a convict and the media trial declared the accused as a convict even before the court declared its decision. There have been quite a number of cases that would have led the court to declare the accused as innocent and had it not been the wrath of the media in shaping the opinions of the people as well as impacting the judgment of the Judiciary.  We can take the example of such cases, for example- In 2010 a well famous case was The Jessica Lal case, in 2006, The Priyadarshini Mattoo case, and one famous case in 2005 is The Bijal Joshi rape case. This process of declaring the person as a person whether he is guilty or not even before the court gives its judgment is known as media trials. It is considered that the widespread coverage of the guilt of an accused and after that imposing a certain assumption about him, without any of the verdict given by the court. It is very true that where there has been high publicity of court cases, the media played a crucial role in creating hysteria in the minds of viewers, trying to make it nearly impossible for the trial to result as absolutely right and fair. There are various reasons behind the attention of the media around particular cases that are highly sensational, These reasons are given as below:-

  1. Cases which involve the issue related to children or the case are so horrific or gruesome that the media considers itself that it is necessary to sensationalize.
  2. The case may be of a leading celebrity, it may be as a victim or as an accused. 

We have noticed many times that in the cases of big celebrities, the influence of the media could drastically change the opinion of people or media drastically because of the fans of these influential celebrities. 

When any sensitive case comes to be tried before the law of court and then among the people through the media, there we can see a type of anticipated upsurge in curiosity to know about the issue and decision of that case. And as a result, we always try to look forward to that sensational news and after that, the Media including newspapers, TV, or various news sites, etc. start publishing their own interpretation and opinion of facts and try to represent the case according to their understanding. This process is basically called investigative journalism and the irony is that it is not prohibited in India. The influence of media coverage by various modes like newspapers and the internet on people by creating a perception of innocence or guilt. Sometimes even before the Court of law declares its judgment, this process is called a Media Trial or Trial by Media in other words.

Types of trial:- There are basically two types of media trial, these are given as below:- 

  • Fair trial
  • Media trial

Fair Trial:- Fair trial is a trial in which is conducted fairly and without any discrimination or impartiality. Under this trial, an individual has a right to get a fair trial without any type of business. 

Media trial:- Media trial is a trial in which the media play a crucial role. Under this trial, the media do the entire work such as investigation and examination of the issue on the basis of facts and circumstances. And it is definitely true that the media declare the person as guilty or not even before the court declared its judgment.

We can take the latest example of the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the same thing had happened in this case. The media played a fantastic role by targeting Rhea Chakraborty, even before the court investigation was complete. In this case, the media targeted Rhea Chakraborty for the death of Sushant Singh.

Impact of Media Trial

The main impact of media trials is that the media play a vital role in portraying events that have to be kept as a secret. It will not be wrong to say that the media acts as a watchdog and helps to bring us to a platform where the people can get the things that are happening in society and it is important to understand that this will only lead us to the entire world that is biased against one community or person. According to some people, media trials have caused wrongful portrayal of alleged accused and acted as an assistant in destroying their careers basically by the fact that they were accused. Even though it is a different thing that they have not yet been portrayed as guilty by the court of law. 

a. Media trial and Free Speech


As per numerous judicial interpretations and precedents, Freedom of the press (article 19) may be a fundamental right. The concept of a press is an implied one. In Indian Express Newspapers v/s Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641supreme court held that the press assumes an exceptionally important standing during a democratic apparatus. The courts have obligation to take care of the liberty of the press and negate all laws and managerial activities that abbreviate that chance. Freedom of the press has three fundamental components. They are:
1. Freedom of access to all or any sources of data,
2. Freedom of publication, and
3. Freedom of circulation.
However, no right is absolute. Article (19)(2) of the Indian Constitution imposes some reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression vis-a-vis freedom of the press. With this expanded job and significance joined to the media, the need for its responsibility and demonstrable skill in reportage can’t be accentuated enough. In common society, no right to freedom is supreme, limitless, or unfit altogether conditions. However, the chance of the media, almost like another opportunity perceived under the constitution must be figured out inside sensible limits.


b. Fair trial


Innocent until proven guilty and proof beyond an inexpensive doubt are two major principles of the Indian criminal justice system. Every accused in our country features a right to a good trial.
A fair trial involves a public hearing, independent judges, the proper counsel, the presumption of innocence, and lots of other factors. And, the procedures of a case with unprejudiced, free and able Judges guarantee a good trial.
In Anukul Chandra Pradhan v. Union of India,1996(6) SCC 354. The Supreme Court observed that “No occasion should arise for an impact that the publicity attached to those matters has attended dilute the stress on the essentials of a good trial and therefore the basic principles of jurisprudence including the presumption of innocence of the accused unless found guilty at the top of the trial.”
Trial by media, electronic press, and popular opinion sabotages the very essence of rule of law. It straightaway hinders the administration of justice.


c. Right to privacy


Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) defines privacy within the
following terms:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference together with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
The Constitution through wider interpretation of article 21 by the Supreme Court has instituted the right to privacy.
Often, media houses within the role to draw in public eyes do things that are off-limits. In cases with celebrities or some status cases, news channels broadcast private information (no consideration given to consent). Not only the accused but the victims also suffer thanks to excessive publicity. We need to protect the proper privacy unless it threatens the general public interest.


d. Contempt of court


Publishing popular opinions on the ultimate verdict even before the decision of the court is nothing but an immediate hindrance within the administration of justice. Producing a verdict requires an enormous amount of wisdom and interpreting skills only by highly qualified individuals as sitting judges. This ultra vires conduct scandalizes the function of the courts and therefore the prevalence of the rule of law.


e. Influence on judges


Judges undoubtedly confirm to not be influenced by the media and opinion. But as rightly observed by Justice Frankfurter within the case of John D. Pennekamp v. the State of Florida (1946) 328 US 33- “however, judges also are human and that we know better than didn’t forbear how powerful is that the pull of the unconscious and the way treacherous the rational process…and since Judges, however stalwart, are human, the fragile task of administering justice ought to not be made unduly difficult by irresponsible print.”
The media presents the case in such how to the general public that if an adjudicator passes an order against the “media decision”, the person then considered an equivalent token as bad or one-sided.

Overview and impact media trial


The media trial has been in action for an extended time now. In cases just like the Nitish Katara murder case Jessica Lal case, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, and the Bijal Joshi rape case, media activism was at par with justice. However during a very recent case Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar, 2020 (Sushant Singh Rajput Death Case) media trial went beyond its control or limits. Commentaries over the accused and therefore the victim was brutal and defamatory. it might be suitable to label the entire scenario as a personality assassination for both parties. Media channels within the race of TRP ratings forgot every ethical and professional code of conduct.

Photographs, videos, unsolicited statements are intangible during this age of technology. Furthermore, it harms the reputation of an individual at all times. The thing to be remembered, the person remains not a convict before the court’s judgment. therefore, he’s rightful of integrity same as the other person.
The media must draw a line as being a mere corporate institution or democratic pillar. it’s the functioning of the judiciary to pronounce verdicts, not the media trials. it’s time our legislature recognizes this problem.

Advantages of Media trial

  •  With the increase of newsgathering mobile apps such a TOI, in-shorts alongside cabled televisions, internet, a newspaper in almost every regional language and broadcast, media has laid its web onto the minds of just about every citizen who comes in touch with such resources. This tremendous outreach makes people from every corner of this world conscious of the events happening around the world and is often informing them of public matters.
  •  The Rich industrialist, corrupt ministers, and even the known celebrities often get obviate court trials by bribing the police officials who later refuse to file FIR against them. for instance, Clinton, 42nd President of yank was known to possess assaulted four women tried his best to stay this controversy far away from the press. Media being a watchdog of such misdemeanors, exposed the dark side of their president which later led to the impeachment of Clinton.
  • Media plays a really crucial role in molding the mindset of this generation and does a fantastic job in bringing the criminal on the hook. With the fear of being exposed and publicly shamed, everyone from the foremost powerful business tycoon to a traditional college-going teenager is now conscious of their actions and therefore the consequences of their actions. In a way, it curbs the number of crime cases happening a day.

Disadvantages of Media Trial

  • In cases like Jessica Lal or Aarushi Talwars mystery murder, the media play an important role in instilling the victim within the minds of folk and authoritatively declaring someone because the criminal much before the CBI teams alongside criminal courts even decide upon the ultimate verdict. This not only objects to the choice made by the justice committee but also crushes the reputation of the accused.
  •  Different news channels have cut-throat competition amongst themselves in reference to which channel comes up with the best-cooked stories grabbing the eye of the audience and raising their TRP. As a result, they finish up delivering wrong information at the value of creating it sounds interesting.
  • It hampers the entire administration of courts and their decisions. Trial by media simply dominates and questions the existence of CBI teams and justice courts. It will not be wrong to say that the public trusts the media and have belief in investigations that are made by the media.
  • ‘The Daily Mirror’ and ‘The Sun’ newspapers were helped liable for providing information to the folks that could prejudice the trial in Joana Yeates murder case mainly for convicting the incorrect murderer within the UK. This made the trial of this case next to impossible and hence couldn’t grant justice to only Joana.

Conclusion

In today’s world media has become one of the important parts of daily life. It is true that media is considered one of the strongest pillars for a democratic nation and as a result, India consists of one of the freest Media in the globe.  Media helps to represent our thoughts and opinions in front of people and it also provides a platform for the people to represent their views and interact with people freely. It will not be wrong to say that the media helps us to enjoy the rights of freedom of speech and expression therefore it is known as the fourth pillar of democracy which always stands tall as well as strong. The media is acting as a watchdog for democracy. The role of media is not limited to disseminating the news only but also to ask or represent the public opinion and consciousness and also take up public advocacy outside the court on the various matters which are related or beneficial for the public. However, it also helps in resolving the various cases by investigating and examining the facts and circumstances of that case and as a result, it declares the person whether he or she is guilty or not even before the court judgment. But sometimes media trials provokes the situation of mob lynching and that leads to the death of innocent people or some time it influences the perception of common people but it also plays a vital role in molding or change the mindset of the present generation by removing the facts here and there and as a result, they make the mindset of people in such a way that they believe on everything blindly what media is representing. And it also does an excellent job of bringing the wrongdoer on the hook.  But it is very true that the media also helps the people from problems which are arising due to the celebrities or corrupt people and bribing authorities in order to escape court trials and take the risk of displaying the issue on the screen in front of people.

But sometimes the media trial has a bad impact on the case and it can be corrected by providing limited information to the journalists which are sufficient to keep the people aware of the happenings around their societies and the entire globe. In the end, I would like to say only that the media helps in resolving the case by investigating the case through the process of its trial and also helps the court of law by providing various hidden facts which they get during the investigation but sometimes it crosses its limits and that may lead to risk and injuries to the people. 

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